Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pretty Scary Stuff!

I have been working my butt off to create some new material for my class on Horror and Thriller screenwriting on Sunday. Tuesday I wrote 10 single spaced pages on Contained Thrillers (5,327 words), and Wednesday I was a slacker and only wrote 2,234 words on Creative Kills for the horror half. Thursday I'll do more on the horror half and hopefully a piece on Paranoia Thrillers. I've also been watching a stack of horror films, both old and new.

The Sunday Class - Info!

Sometimes people ask why a guy with a bunch of produced thriller and action films is teaching a class on horror... and aside from having written a bunch of horror scripts that almost got made - including a horror movie for *Lifetime* - when I first moved to Los Angeles a couple of friends of mine and I produced a series called THE DEAD BEAT (hey, I came up with that title!) that was kind of the Entertainment Tonight of Horror Movies. My friends would drive down from the Bay Area and crash at my apartment and then we'd go out and shoot interviews all day for a few days, they'd go back and edit them and then when the Fangoria Horror Movie Convention came to town they'd be crashing at my apartment and we'd sell the tapes at the show. After spending three days at Fango a little over a week ago with one of the guys - Rod - and he e-mailed me a link to this Behind The Scenes of the Dead Beat Videozine from 1992! Shot by one of Rod's friends from the crew, which is why he's the star (beard and ponytail then, now... bald). I have horror stories about shooting these...



I was so much thinner then! Did you see Frank Darabont? My old apartment was in there, too (PSYCHO poster) - we'd sometimes shoot interviews there, and Jeff Combs (RE-ANIMATOR) almost died in my office chair when he leaned back in it and it snapped... and he slammed onto the floor! But we had some of that green reanimation fluid and injected him and....

- Bill

PS: I missed free chicken two days in a row! On Monday, I biked past a KFC and there was no one there, but when I biked back at dinner time - the line was halfway down Lankershim! Pretty much the same story with Pollo Loco on Tuesday, except when I went back at 8pm... they'd stopped giving away chicken. Pisser! I ate there anyway. Wednesday was 31 cent ice cream day at Baskin Robbins... and I got my ice cream!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Battle For Terra... in 3D!

My friend Keith has a movie opening Friday in 3D - an animated sci-fi action film. I was walking through the Arclight Hollywood... and there was the poster! Cool! Animated films are almost all from Disney or Dreamworks these days, Keith is an indie producer who put this film together outside the system and landed a big 3D release through LionsGate. Here's the trailer for the film...



If that looks interesting to you, catch it on opening weekend so that they can keep it in cinemas. The real battle is for *cinema screens* - if and indie film isn't filling seats they're just going to give that screen to 5FAST 5FURIOUS. Same with family entertainment and entertainment aimed at people over 25.

And this is in *Real 3D*, not that crummy kind like DR. TONGUE'S 3D HOUSE OF STEWARDESSES.

- Bill

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Movie Business Is Booming

From an AP story...

Studios head into summer on a box-office tear, with receipts running at a record pace. Revenues for the year are at $3.06 billion, up 17.4 percent over last year. Factoring in higher ticket prices, movie attendance is up 15.7 percent.

"We have never been in this strong a position heading into the summer season, ever," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers.


And there was a fear that 2009 would be a bust due to the Writer's Strike and potential SAG strike creating a shortage of films... and then the economy going south. Instead, we are in a record year.

But movies aimed exclusively at an adult audience seem to be tanking - SOLOIST opened at #4 this weekend. There was an article in the Hollywood Reporter about this a week ago, and here's another with much of the same information but with an interesting solution to the problem...

Should Paul Walker be getting $20m a film and should Russell Crowe be paid $2m?

The 15-25 audience is driving the higher ticket sales and box office... or maybe it's just pure escapism. People are not seeing movies designed for "adults".

Screenwriters often complain that they don't make quality movies any more - but they *do* seem to be making quality movies... but very few people seem to want to see them. If you don't support quality movies, they will make fewer and fewer of them... until the only thing left with be 7FAST 7FURIOUS and OBSESSED 3.

- Bill


Classes On CD On Sale!

IMPORTANT UPDATE:


Yesterday’s Dinner: Teriyaki chicken.
Movies: I have seen a whole bunch of movies and am waaaay behind on my reportage of them... but I did see SOLOIST last night... and the new OSS 117 movie the night before.
DVDs: I've been watching a stack of horror movies for my class on Sunday, including...

SPLINTER (2008) - Really good low budget film, probably the only time I have ever been in suspense over a thermometer reading.

City couple are going on a camping trip. He's a complete nerd botanist, she's hot. For being a guy who knows *everything* about nature, he doesn't like being outside. As soon as he screws up pitching the tent, he begs his gf to go to a motel instead. While they are driving to the motel - she's driving, he doesn't know how to work a stick - they stop for a woman hitchhiker... who has an armed and wanted boyfriend. Now they're hostages in their own SUV... which hits something on the road. A porcupine or something, It punctures the tire. While wanted guy and our leading lady fix the tire, the slightly crazy bad girl and the nerd go to bury the porcupine... which is not a porcupine. And ain't quite dead. She shoots the thing, and they take off in the SUV in a panic.

The SUV overheats, and they pull into a gas station... which is deserted. Except for the dead guy in the bathroom who seems to be half service station attendant - half porcupine.... oh, and mangled up, so he's kind of like The Thing from the Carpenter movie. Once this thing attacks, the crazy bad girl seems to be dead, the other three are trapped in the gas station/mini mart. This thing - you can cut it up and it uses it's spikes to reconnect, not necessarily in the same way the human was. A parasite that just uses the host body to get around. Oh, and the hosts grow porcupine spikes. Go out and rescue the bad girl, see if she's okay?

The film milks being trapped really well, and the wanted guy is a double threat: a violent guy with a gun... and the first porcupine thing pricked his finger, so he's trying to keep his change a secret...

The effects are pretty good, there's an early crawling hand that is kind of silly and gross at the same time, which works because they don't take it as seriously as they should. A later arm is okay, but the really messed up thing-like creatures are the best. Arms and legs twisted around and heads hanging loose and just messed up looking and dribbling black-red blood. Builds some real suspense and manages to turn a gas station mini mart into a series of locations, from the counter to the beer cooler.

You see so many of these low budget movies that look like crap, or are just filler material for 60 minutes and then 20 minutes of chase/kills. This one at least keeps things happening all of the time - whether it's a criminal with a gun and a hostage situation or those things outside the gas station. And from the start it has good lighting and some nice dolly shots (moving camera).

Shot well, acted well, good creatures, good dramatic situations with a gun or two, good twists.... One of the better low budget things I've seen.

MURDER PARTY (2007) - Much less impressive. Technically okay, but kind of blandly shot. The story tries to rely on laughs to pad it out, but just isn't funny. On Halloween, New York parking enforcement guy finds invitation to a "Murder Party" on the street, so he makes a costume and goes... to an abandoned warehouse. Where a bunch of artists tie him to a chair and then talk for 60 minutes about the nature of art and other crap while they prepare to kill him. As an art project. The mildly amusing thing is that the artists die one-by-one in crazy accidents while waiting to kill our tied up victim. After an hour of talk, one artist goes crazy after his art has been insulted by the others and starts chasing and killing people for 20 minutes.

It was mildly amusing for those 60 minutes of talk - but often seemed kind of improvised: the things that were supposed to be funny were almost funny, like they needed a little more work or thought. But most of the first 60 is that guy in the silly costume chained to a chair while everyone gabs about art, and why their art is important enough for a grant. We had all of these weapons scattered around, and people get killed by allergic reactions! Kinda of amusing - but not laugh outloud funny and a boring way to die. Even the guy who gets drunk and accidentally sets himself of fire happens mostly off camera (probably couldn't afford the stunt). Then, at like 60 minutes, everybody else gets shot - bang, bang, bang... boring! But at least that sets the chase into motion, which was exciting.

The pacing thing kills a lot of low budget movies. I know a guy who has made two awful horror flicks, and when I read the scripts the first thing I told him is that you can't have 60-70 pages of people talking and then bunch up all of the action at the end. On both scripts, he ignored my notes... and it's hard to make it through the films. Hard to wait for 60 minutes for something to happen. You need that "regular heartbeat" of pacing. You need to keep things happening, not stall to kill time... before the killing time.

MURDER PARTY seemed like a hybrid horror and mumblecore film. Was trying to say something about art, but I didn't get it.

- Bill

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sex Lessons

When I was young and impressionable, I watched a movie called KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE made by three crazy guys. At the time, I was making parody films on super 8mm film - everything from movie parodies (NIGHT OF THE LIVING LIFE INSURANCE SALESMEN - You're In Evil Hands! to FISTFUL OF MOZZARELLA - FOR A FEW PIZZAS MORE) and these guys were doing the same kind of stuff with better focus and an actual crew on 35mm... and getting *paid* for it! I wanted to be them!

Here is their lesson on sex...


A good way to start the weekend.

- Bill

Classes On CD On Sale!


IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Bad Guy Leads & THE DRIVER.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Del Taco #6 combo.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ocean's 11 Remake!

They are already remaking OCEANS 11... again! First time was with Sinatra and the Rat Pack, then Clooney and his pals, now they're aiming at a younger audience...



- Bill

OSS 117: CAIRO - NEST OF SPIES!

I saw this film last year, and reviewed it here, and now there is a sequel that takes place in Rio... and I'm seeing it tomorrow night!



Here's the sequel trailer... in French... No subtitles.



I hope it's as funny as the first one.

-Bill

Classes On CD On Sale!
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Adaptation and, you know, adapting books into screenplays.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chicken Caesar salad.
Last night I was on... Screentalk Radio.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part last)

After writing a million treatments, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam have become tired of waiting for the script and are on their way out the door... I could pound out a script that could stop them, but the producer has instead decided to have me write a brand new treatment that takes place in South Africa. And after a stack of free treatments, this one will be for pay - hooray! Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

After reading a bunch of books on South Africa and watching some travel videos I did a version where he was a bodyguard in South Africa and the badguys were only stealing some diamonds instead of assassinating anybody. He was less involved in this story - still managing to run into the bad guys by accident over and over again.

This treatment was thrown away. Jean Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam signed to do another movie... they’d still be interested in reading the script, if ever there was one. But now they were off on some other project and my guess is that MGM will lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Could Jamie Lee Curtis play a bodyguard in South Africa, I asked... the producer did not answer.

Every project has a certain amount of *momentum* - as long as it’s moving forward quickly, everyone is excited and that excitement can actually turn a script into a film. People want to make movies, and if your project is hurtling towards the screen like a juju-bee hurled by a twelve year old, everyone wants to be part of it. But when things begin to slow down, people start jumping ship... and no one really wants to replace them. The end result of slowing down is *stopping* - and no one wants to be attached to a stalled film. That’s a dead film.

I suspect my Hawaii film is completely dead at this point. It slowed down due to a possible actor’s strike - and because that strike kept dragging on without ever happening, the Hawaii project slowed to a crawl. Now that the actors are probably going to sign a contract (a year later) the economy sucks so bad I can’t imagine this thing ever happening. Another script of mine on some producer’s shelf forever. You have to strike while the iron is hot. There is a perfect time for the project, and if you miss that time because you are waiting for some other time, you lose momentum and things start to fall apart. The Hawaii thing waited too long, trying to play it safe... and now it’s over.

But back to 2002....

Even though I had some fresh cash in the bank on the never-ending treatment project, I wouldn’t get the nice big check for writing the script until the producer approves one of the treatments. And that was never going to happen if he kept throwing them away and coming up with new ideas (He’s an IRS agent in Latvia! He’s an ex-CIA assassin in Afghanistan! He’s a body builder in Bulgaria!). I wrote a new South Africa treatment with all of his crazy story-killing notes and now the protagonist had nothing to do with the story at all, he was just in scenes where things happened to other people. It had turned to dog-doo. I hated the treatment, but by this point I was a typing monkey and the producer wasn’t listening to anything I said in our story meetings.

That’s one of the things I will never understand about this business - you are hired because they have read a bunch of your scripts and like them... then they want you to write something that goes against everything they liked about those sample scripts. If they’d just let you do your job and keep out of your way, they’d probably end up with a much better script. But instead, the new treatment is basically dictation - nothing of me in there - and it has a completely passive protagonist and a complete non-sense plot and things that happen for no reason and massive plot holes and crazy coincidences and no conflict and zero emotional conflict...

One of the running battles I’ve been having with this producer - he wants to do something like BOURNE, just without the character stuff that made BOURNE more than just a bunch of cool action scenes. He *wants* a completely 2D character - not a complicated guy who worries that the more he discovers who he really is, the more he may not like himself much. Every treatment I am fighting to make sure the lead character has some character - and those elements are the first things he wants to remove on the next treatment. I am so masochistic, I don’t give up the fight. I want this to eventually go to script, and I want it to be a *good* script. Not just a bag-o-action. But after all of these treatments and losing our lead and director, I’m just keeping my mouth shut and doing what I’m told. Duane Haller in WHITE LINE FEVER was right - you cause trouble and all you get is trouble. So I crank out the treatment and turn it in and wait for the next meeting where it will be thrown out and I will be given a new random country and a new random occupation for the lead and a new random action event.

It was November by then, and I had spent almost the whole year writing treatment after treatment and never getting any closer to script

When the next meeting actually began with a new location, I quit. I tried to control my temper, but I may have failed a little. I complained that we were no closer to script than when I began and that I was getting tired of writing things that would never end up on screen. Part of my problem may be that I am “spoiled” - I actively seek out the people who actually make movies instead of just make deals, so lots of stuff ends up on screen. Hey, it may turn out crap by the time it gets to screen - but so do lots of big budget studio films... and the other 90% of the scripts the studio bought that year just get rewritten into crap and never make it to screen. I had done more that a fair number of free rewrites, and it was time to move on.

Looking back on it all, I think the problem was the producer couldn’t deal with the pressure of having MGM’s future on his shoulders. I think he choked. We all want to do our best work, but there’s a clever way of not ever failing by not ever finishing your work. Plenty of screenwriters do this - they write and rewrite and change things and never manage to get to FADE OUT. Because once they finish the script, the script can be read and judged and it might suck. But a script they are still working on? Always brilliant! I think this producer, whose history was a bunch of MOWs that were here this week, gone the next... just a way to sell laundry soap; was afraid that his first big theatrical would come out and flop big time, maybe even pull down the studio, and it would all be his fault. He couldn’t deal with that kind of pressure, so he postponed his failure (or success) by never having a project that could go to screen. The silly part about this is that when we had that treatment that actually attracted the talent required to make the movie, he should have pulled the trigger, gone to script, then made the sucker. At that point, the cast would have resulted in *some* box office, and would have been successful on DVD even if the film sucked. And there would have been other people who could have shared he blame if the film was a total stinker - you can blame the director or the star or even blame me.

There comes a time when the rewards outweigh the risks - or are at least equal - and it makes sense to just do it. You can’t succeed without the possibility of failure - and failure is not a bad thing. Failure is just a step on the road to success. In this case, the producer might have made a film for a major studio that would have been one of their big releases for the year. How many big studio films flop every year? MGM was coming off a string of flops - expensive flops - so this may have just been another MGM flop. Hey, it would be used in the same sentence as films that cost $100 million! That elevates the producer! Strange as it probably seems - being the producer of a $100 million film that flopped is better than being the producer of a $1 million film that does well for its budget. Same goes for writers, too. I wrote a film that made *five times* its production cost in profits! But I’m a footnote, and the writers of some big budget flop are popular because someone gambled $200 million on their last script.

This producer could not have failed even if he had failed - because he would move up a few rungs on the ladder. He would be making $10 million studio films instead of $2 million network MOWs. Um, the producer’s fee is much larger - even if the film tanks.

Before writing this blog entry I decided to look up the producer and see what happened to him. I had done this once before, but thought I’d check again. Well, he has disappeared from the face of the earth. His last credit was an MOW made before my association with him. His website is gone. His company is no longer listed anywhere (and hasn’t been for years). He is out of the business. MOWs were dying at the time we were working together, so he had to find a different kind of film to produce. Move forward because he could not move back. In a way, our project was the best way to keep his career as a producer - and it seems that he has lost that. Every time I search for him, I find nothing... not even a trace of him since our project.

Here’s the good news and bad news of it all: Hey, I paid rent and expenses for a year of freakin’ slave labor! And since the producer is MIA and our deal was for a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a newlywed and one of the crappy treatments in Dubrovnik, I’m thinking the free treatments that I wrote are mine. I was not paid for them. How can anyone other than me own them? So the school teacher treatment is something I plan on developing - it was my idea and I think there may be a market for it. The great treatment I wrote that attracted the talent is also mine - written before the second treatment payment. The bad news on that - I was writing so many treatments on this project that somewhere along the line that one was saved over by another treatment. I *do* have a hard copy of that treatment... except for the last three pages of the 15! Somewhere along the line those pages fell off the original - damned Staples staples! - and I probably have the notes on how it ends somewhere.... Where did I put all of those 2002 notebooks? I only discovered the 3 missing pages over the holidays when I brought all of this stuff with me to clean it up and set it up as something I might write this year. Now, it looks like I’ll have to take some time to figure out what was on those last three pages - maybe I’ll script it next year.

I’m also looking at all of the other versions of the treatments for either scenes or storylines or characters that I can steal. The two college girls one I may completely re-treat and turn into a Hitchcock kind of thing in some country other than Portugal.

I call stuff like this my “Phantom Credits” - work you’ve done and were paid for that never ended up going to screen, so there’s nothing on IMDB about it. You look at 2002 and you think I did nothing that year - when the opposite is true. Many of those years without any IMDB credits were years where I worked my butt off and got paid for some project that never went to film. Maybe one out of ten of the scripts they pay for go to screen, which means for every credit you see on IMDB there are 9 more you do not see.

Because I write for production - I try not to write anything that will still take a number of steps before it can be made, or is impractical from a production point of view - I’ve managed to get a higher percentage of purchased projects on screen. But I still have a bunch of things on shelves all over town that will never get made. After five years, you can buy those scripts back at cost - what you were paid. I often wonder whether I should do that (I’ve bought back three scripts, and still own them). Usually I think the future scripts are better than the past scripts. The future scripts have *potential*.

- Bill

Classes On CD On Sale!

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Jargon & Slang & CLUELESS.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Tuna sandwich from Togos.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two Scenes Of Gundown Execution

Most of my movies are best enjoyed after drinking at least a 6 pack of beer. No matter how hard I work to make the script clever and interesting and explore interesting characters involved in making critical decisions that will haunt them forever... they end up being turned into knuckle headed action films that often don’t make any sense. This is my favorite review from a movie that may have began with my screenplay and turned into... Well, this review from some fan site explains everything:

I watched this movie last night and it is really disappointing. First i didnot understand the fact that even Seagal played in high budget movies and in this one he is at position of screenplay director there are two scenes of gundown execution, really bad performed, where shooter is firing at least one meter right or left from victim, pointless. I mean everybody have or should have paintball and other technology for filming these scenes so its no need for this. Despite all brilliant acting and fighting of main actor this is a really cheap movie. The time is set in present but they used sr-71 Blackbird spy plane shots from 1st gulf war and you can see in background airports cars from those days. Then big mistake is when admiral orders attack from the air and 4 light blue (navy) f-15s bombers take off from aircraft carrier and few minutes later they appear like 4 f-16s in yellow colour. That is also very bad cause they are not even similar cause f-16s have 1 tail (backwing) and f-15s or f-14s two. In those scenes all planes are from archive footages and videos like in old Chuck Norris movies. But in that time that was new for audience. Anyway f-16s do not ever take off from carriers cause they are not navy planes and they are to heavy.

This whole movie is a remake of Black Thunder (1998) and in one scene when the plane that is all about is become invisible even from human eye it is like they are stole that scene from remake because it is not completely unseen its like a camouflage (like in Predator) almost unseen and its look like there is no shape of f-117, but more alike f-1 bmirage (French fighter jet). And also at the end battle the pilot of f-16 chasing Seagal in f117 is saying the exact word from original movie (I do not need to see you cause i know where you are) Next, in scene when f-16 is chasing a new project prototype there are several shots of several different planes in scene. In first there is a blue f-16, in second it has a green colour but only two sidewinder rockets on the ends of wings, and in the third scene there is a grey plane with much more projectiles and fuel tanks under the hull. And at last, the scene when three US commandos armed with small machineguns and i think that third one had two pistols shooting WITHOUT any grounds cover almost wiped-out 3 times more terrorists who are surrounding them from all directions with AKs with wall pillars covers, which is even in theory impossible. Even the terrorists were kids, they sholdnot have so many dead among them, no, not on that range. Also lesbian scene between US girl (Ciera Payton) (good acting in first time in movie, in face she looks like a pornstar, i am not kidding) and terrorist girl is GREAT with Seagal (John) in "like to watch" business.


There you go folks! Doesn’t that make you want to put it your NetFlix cue just to help you understand what the heck the guy was talking about?

Don’t.

- Bill

Monday, April 20, 2009

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part three)

Our story so far...

A producer with a deal at MGM wanted me to write a script for him, so I began (as usual) by pitching 5 story ideas... for Jamie Lee Curtis as the lead, which could be shot as a piggy-back on another project he had going in New Zealand. He liked an idea about newlyweds on vacation, the husband is kidnaped and the wife has to get him back. I wrote a 15 page treatment, which he loved... but then he changed his mind and wanted to shoot in Mexico, so the treatment became about a mother and son whose yacht comes to port in Mexico, and the son is kidnaped and the mom has to go Rambo to get him back. He loved that treatment, too, but wanted to change the lead to a girl in her mid-20s, and shoot in Portugal. So I came up with 5 ideas, pitched them, and he picked one and we wrote up a treatment... and several treatments later we were doing a male lead martial arts film in Dubrovnik.

So far, I had only been paid to write the original treatment and the others were “free rewrites” - just with completely different stories and locations and lead characters. After doing a few more treatments I decided I’d had enough of this, and I was going to write a *great* treatment that would cause the producer to pull the trigger and go to script (where I would get another check) and maybe we’d be making a movie. This new treatment was better than BOURNE - it had all kinds of great action scene ideas you’ve never seen before and a cool story idea about an attempt to assassinate Kofi Annan. We need to get to scripts soon, because we’re shooting in September... But then we lost our star... when he didn’t become a star, after playing a pivotal role in both MATRIX sequels.

And someplace around here it became a bigger project - after reading the new treatment they wanted to spend the full $10 million on this film! It would be a big MGM theatrical release starring... Jean Claude Van Damme with action director Ringo Lam. Cool! My first big theatrical release! Ringo Lam is a Hong Kong action director, and I’m a big fan of his work. The female lead looked like it was going to be that French girl from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and some other name actors were up for supporting roles.

I tell the producer I’m tired of writing treatments and would like to go to script. Maybe verbally pitch the next version, and if he likes it I’ll script it instead of treatment it. He’s not sure about that idea - what if something happens after we go to script and we need to do a page one? I tell him we need to make up our minds because September is right around the corner. We need a script. The producer writes me a check... for another treatment. Not the script check. I am happy, sort of. This is paying the bills but not even coming close to paying for the work.

The amazing this is that I have now been paid twice for the "same treatment" - even though it has really been dozens of treatments. Often producers don't want to pay you for the treatment at all, and often (subtext: usually) I'm okay with that. A treatment is the path to a script, and if doing a couple of days work gets me a script gig, that's a nice incentive. But I am also used to producers who are in the business of making movies. One of the reasons why I liked this producer is because he came from the world of MOWS (movies of the week) where you often get hired knowing that the movie will air at 9pm on September 17th on ABC, and everything is a race to get the script done so that they can start production. MOW producers don't endlessly develop like this... they make movies.

Many producers seem to be in the business of developing scripts, not making movies. I have no idea how they stay in business and keep their offices on the studio lots, but they almost never actually make a film. A few years back Sean Connery sued a producer because he didn't make movies - including a couple with Connery attached. These producers will have you read a stack of books to pitch your take on them... but never actually turn any of those books into scripts. Or they buy scripts and cycle through a half dozen writers doing rewrites on a script that will never be a movie. I don't understand these producers - who aspires to be the gelding at a stud farm?

For a writer, you can easily get trapped doing a year of reading books and giving your take, or reading scripts they've bought and pitching your rewrite, or just doing endless meetings where nothing ever comes of it. All of the money you've banked from the last script deal for that rainy day? Well, this is a rainy *year* - where you work your butt off on projects for some producer who doesn't actually make movies... they just develop scripts.

Only I've been paid *twice* for this treatment - a miracle!

Of course, the producer threw out the treatment that everybody loved - because he had a better idea. By now, the “better ideas” were all much worse than what had come before. In the next version the hero was just a bodyguard who wasn't really trying to stop the assassination - he just kind of stumbled around and eventually ended up stopping the assassination by accident... with many many many other weird changes. It was total crap, and I was afraid I’d be stuck writing the script version... we were running out of time.

The producer had MGM and Ringo Lam and Jean Claude Van Damme all waiting for the script... which I hadn't started because he kept throwing out treatments. Every couple of weeks I’d write a new 15 page treatment and then he’d throw it out and come up with a different idea and a different location and a different co-star and a different job for the hero and a different everything else! And September was right around the corner! Everybody wants to know where the script is - and I tell the producer we need to decide on a story so that I can start writing the script. Though I’m a fast writer, it’s still going to take a month. The producer postponed the film until October... and that was kind of the last possible month to start shooting before Dubrovnik became neck-deep in snow.

MGM was wondering where the script was. Jean Claude Van Damme was wondering where the script was. Ringo Lam was wondering where the script was. We needed to take a treatment to script if we were going to beat the snow.

I went to the next meeting with a copy of the best version of the Kofi Annan assassination treatment. Because we had to go to script RIGHT NOW to avoid the snow, I wanted to make sure we took the best story to script. I was prepared to fight for that version.

The producer said he didn’t like the Kofi Annan version, and he had some new ideas to “improve” the stumbling bodyguard version. I said we didn’t have time to do a new version and still film in Dubrovnik before it was neck-deep in snow. I thought the weather would end up being the thing that made the producer make up his mind so that we could go to script... no such luck! The producer said - we’ll move the story to South Africa, where weather isn’t a problem.

I wanted to jump across the desk and strangle him. It was time to get off the pot and go to script. I had a great treatment - the one that got us a cast and director onboard - and instead we keep throwing away treatments and changing them into crap and not getting any closer to script. Instead of strangling him, I lost my temper. Now, even when I lose my temper I’m still fairly calm and reasonable. I’m still interested in explaining why I am right and they are wrong. And I don’t make it all about my emotions - I make it about the *evidence*, the *reasons* why I believe one method is better than another. But one thing I have learned in my travels in Hollywood - most people don’t give a damn if you can prove they are completely wrong, because they’re “mommy” and that makes them always right - even if they are wrong. This big ego thing gets in the way of making rational decisions. The more you can show them that their method won’t work, the more they fight for it. So, I leave the meeting with a new meeting in a week where I am supposed to deliver a treatment that takes place in South Africa... and has to do with diamond smuggling.

So, we have no Jean-Claude Van Damme, no Ringo Lam... and my guess is that MGM might lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

Well, you can find out in the last part on Wednesday...

- Bill
Classes On CD On Sale!
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Split Screen * Chapters & CITY OF GOD.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Gilled Cheese sandwiches at the Standard downtown with a couple of attractive women, which are not nearly as good as the ones in the Library. A whole weekend of drinking and eating to excess at the Fango horror movoe convention.

Movies on TV...
Saturday, April 25th, M4M2 (UK) 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This Will Make You Happy

Yesterday was tax day, and now it's the time on Sprockets when we dance...



- Bill

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Top Five Worst Movie Quotes To Utter During Sex

You could probably use a laugh today, because it's April 15th...

I subscribe to the Top 5 List, and get comedy in my e-mail box every day for a low, reasonable, price. Probably less than a penny per laugh. Here is a great sample of the funny stuff that meshes with our wonderful world of movies...

============================================
C L U B T O P 5
Now appearing with Celine Dion in Las Vegas!
============================================

From April 15, 2003

The Top 16 Worst Movie Quotes to Utter During Sex

16> "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night!"

15> "All I wanna do is go the distance."

14> "I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself."

13> "It's not a tumor!"

12> "I feel the need... the need for speed."

11> "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again. It does this whenever it's told."

10> "My sister! My daughter! My sister! My daughter!"

9> "Say 'hello' to my little friend."

8> "At that speed, will you be able to pull out in time?"

7> "We're gonna need some more FBI guys, I guess."

6> "I can't hold 'er anymore, Cap'n!"

5> "And I thought they smelled bad on the outside."

4> "I call him 'Mini-Me.'"

3> "We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious."

2> "Look, man, I ain't fallin' for no banana in my tailpipe!"

and Topfive.com's Number 1 Worst Movies Quote to Utter During Sex...

1> "That'll do, pig."

To subscribe, go here:
The Top 5 List www.topfive.com

[ Copyright 2003 by Chris White ]

Chris White is a screenwriter, by the way. So, if you are a producer, after you sign up for Top 5, you should buy one of his comedy scripts.

- Bill

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part two)

Monday night I had drinks with some fellow screenwriters, and one of the things we talked about was free writing. We all know that it’s a bad thing... but we all end up doing it. Some producer who actually gets films made wants you to write up a treatment to help get the financing for the film... or maybe wants you to write the whole script. What do you do? Because the producer actually gets films made, there’s this big carrot - a movie! A paycheck for the script! And probably that production bonus because this producer actually makes movies!

The most common place the free writing thing pops up is in rewrites. I’ve done a bunch of free rewrites because I would rather write for free and try to keep the script on course (oh, and the production bonus) than refuse to do the rewrites and have them hire someone else who will just screw everything up... and get half credit. And producers have a great way of pitching those free rewrites: Hey, I think with just a couple of minor changes, the studio will green light this. First, can the lead character be a cowboy? Second, can it take place in the moon... not *on* the moon, but inside it? And after hearing 10 notes like this you have to make that decision - keep going on this project or quit? And more often than not, you keep going... that carrot of production sure looks tasty!

In 2002 I wrote a treatment for actual pay for a producer at MGM... and then did “rewrites” on it for the rest of the year. I mean the whole year! This was a real producer, who had another project at MGM that was supposed to shoot in New Zealand. An MOW producer who had a huge lucky break when MGM decided his experience bringing in network MOWs on time and on budget was exactly what they needed after they took a big hit after releasing a string of expensive flops. If this producer could make them a string of $10 million genre films with second tier stars...

And I was the guy writing the movie! Well, writing a series of treatments that would become that movie. After writing a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a school teacher whose son gets kidnaped in Mexico by bandits while they are on vacation... and she has to go all Rambo and get him back, the producer had some notes...

Could I make the lead character a 15-25 year old female, and instead of taking place in Mexico - the producer had found this great studio deal in Portugal of all places. Could I come back in a week with 5 script ideas for 15-25 year old female leads that takes place in Portugal? Um, sure.

I came up with some ideas, the best of which was the one they liked - sort of a female version of GOTCHA about two college girls on vacation in Portugal, and one gets mixed up with a terrorist and ends up in trouble and on the run. One of the other ideas was a riff on THE PASSENGER about a woman with a ton of problems who trades identity with the woman in the room next door after she dies in a car accident... and inherits the other woman’s problems which are much worse than hers. No... the producer liked te GOTCHA one. So I wrote a 15 page single spaced treatment and turned it in - driving down to Santa Monica again - 101 to 405 to 10 to surface streets. Between driving there and back, it pretty much eats up the whole day.

We have a meeting after he read it (or his reader did - I’m not sure anyone in town actually reads anything other than coverage, and even that may be read to them). And he loves the treatment, but has a new idea. You see, he’d just had a meeting with this guy who was playing a villain in the next two MATRIX movies. A martial arts guy who was “the new Van Damme”. This guy was sure to become a big star, but right now he was cheap. Could I come up with some male lead ideas? Action stuff? With martial arts?

A week later I pitched him five male lead action ideas - he picked one and asked if I could work out the details by next week. We’d be shooting in Portugal.

Behind the scenes, here, I’m doing a bunch of research every time we switch locations and stories and leads. I didn’t even know where the Friendly Islands were on the first treatment - the reason why the story took place there is that he had another movie that as supposed to shoot in New Zealand and wanted to piggy back the production. Shoot two films back to back and save money on transportation and basic set up costs. When we changed to Mexico I had to find out what was available near his studio with the deal, plus learn how a school teacher might battle a bunch of kidnappers using her knowledge of high school science. I bought a bunch of books of experiments for school teachers and read them, looking for cool McGuyver possibilities. When we went to Portugal, I had to find out what was there (near the studio where he had his deal) and what we could do within our budget. And as this tale continues to unwind, every single change meant a pile of research on my part.

I came up with *Ten* new martial arts stories with a male lead that took place in Portugal, because I wanted him to have a good selection so that we could get this show on the road and go to script so that I could be paid again. Though at any time I could have just said “No more”, that would have stopped things from proceeding to script. Script is where the money is.

My ten ideas included one that I had pitched as a sequel to THE FUGITIVE called PICK UP TEAM about a Federal Agent who goes to pick up a fugitive being extradited from Portugal who loses the fugitive and must recapture him before he can assassinate the President who is coming to Portugal for a meeting... and since the Portuguese government isn’t going to help him, he must assemble a team of thieves and criminals with special talents to help him grab the guy. Another was an existing script of mine about a CIA courier who loses a briefcase full of... well, it ends up being germ warfare stuff... and must retrieve it before it’s unleashed on the world. A bunch of other good action story ideas - that I still have - but the winner was...

A story about a CIA agent who gets set up by his own agency in Portugal and must find out why they want him dead. Sort of like BOURNE IDENTITY - except he knows who he is but doesn’t know why everyone wants him dead. Why? instead of Who? We went over the idea at a meeting, then I wrote up a 15 page treatment.

BOURNE IDENTITY had just come out and I loved it, so did the producer. And that became our model - we were going to do the $10 million BOURNE knock off, shot in Portugal, and filled with as much action as we could. My treatment was cool, and I really liked the idea of a substituting *why* for *who* as the question driving the story. Instead of Bourne’s search for who he is and discovering the sins of his past, I would have my guy searching for why his own people were trying to kill him and uncover the sins of his past. I’d still have a great, conflicted lead character who gets to kick a whole lot of ass before Fade Out.



Oh, and when I was in London I had seen a commercial for Nike shoes that featured these strange guys who did this thing called “parkour” - they ran through urban areas and didn’t let anything get in their way, jumping and twisting and sliding over all sorts of obstacles. Never seen anything like that before. I thought this was really cool, and included it in a scene of the story. These guys were from France, and Portugal is just next door. This would be a cool way to get production value from something no one had ever seen before in our film.

But that treatment was thrown out, because the producer found a much better deal in Dubrovnik. I almost punch out the producer at the meeting. But I control my temper and mention that I thought we’d be shooting the damned film by now and hint that some more money would help me focus on the treatment. He sent me off to write the new 15 page treatment, could I have it done in a week?

So, I did some research into Dubrovnik, and discovered that it was the home to the United Nations Environmental Conferences. I read a stack of books and looked at maps and... well, took my time writing the treatment. I spent a month writing it. Just to piss him off.

Writing these treatments was sometimes difficult because I had speaking engagements. I taught that 2 day screenwriting seminar in Tahoe in April, went back to London in June, and did a 3 day Screenwriting Conference in Las Vegas in July. Oh, and I did a bunch of Barnes & Noble book signings - for a while I was at a different LA store every week signing my book. So even my spare time was filled by activities! Some of these “Can you deliver the treatment in a week?” actually ended up being two weeks with a week in London in between, but only a week to write the danged treatment. I’d come back from an event and have to crank out a stack of pages on whatever synopsis I was working on. I had little time for sleeping, and couldn’t wait for the producer to make up his mind about the story so that I could write the script and then take a vacation. I was working myself into the ground.

Anyway, I wrote a pretty good treatment about the head of UNESCO security who is framed for murder in Dubrovnik and must find out why... discovers a plan to assassinate a top global warming scientist and blame it on environmentalists. The story had a bunch of clever plot twists and some great character stuff and some really inventive action scenes. I really liked this treatment and wanted to see it go to script.

After another meeting with MGM, the producer’s New Zealand project was dumped and MY script was this producer’s big project for 2002. He set a start date in September in Dubrovnik. My contract paid for airfare, hotel, and expenses while they filmed in Dubrovnik - I was going to have a 2 month all expenses paid vacation while they filmed my movie! Cool! This also meant we would soon be going to script... and I would get more money.

The producer didn’t like the environmental thing - even though it was something that really happened in Dubrovnik. He didn’t think that was important enough. Could I come up with a different idea?

Meanwhile, the first of the two new MATRIX movies came out and no one remembered this guy who was supposed to be the next big thing. Bummer. We would probably have to find a new star even if this was just going to be one of those junky weekend #1 action movies. For that we might need a script. I’m seeing a script fee on the horizon!

But instead I write a version of the treatment where the target was Kofi Annan, and many other details were different. I decide to really give this one my absolute best shot and make it fantastic. This is my favorite of the treatments - all of the great twists from before *plus* some new ones, and even though the producer gives me an incredible stupid element he wants shoe-horned into the script, I manage to make that work. I come up with some even better action scenes, and a really cool twist ending that I think will have people talking when they leave the cinema. It had a different parkour scene in it - where the hero escapes from a top floor hotel room by bouncing between balconies until he reaches the street - then runs across the tops of moving cars on the street. Also, I had talked to the producer about a car chase, and the guys who did the RONIN chase worked out of France, and he had a connection to them - so I wrote a car chase that would *rival* the BOURNE IDENTITY and RONIN chases. This was one amazing chase! This treatment *rocks*! I am sure that after reading this we will go to script, directly to script! I believe this story is *better* than BOURNE. I know that this is the one that will get the producer to pull the trigger. After all of these treatments, I was in need of that script fee...

But this is only part two... In part three on Monday, I’ll explain how things got better and then got worse.... much worse.

- Bill

Classes On CD On Sale!
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Dogjuice & Characters & BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Grilled chicken and a salad... to make up for almost a week of eating crap.
Bicycle: Short bike ride yesterday (too windy), short bike ride Monday - from a NoHo Starbucks where I was working to the subway, subway to Hollywood & Vine, bike to Cat & Fiddle to drink with friends.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Miley Cyrus - Is This The End Of The World?

The number one film over the weekend was Disney's new HANNAH MONTANA movie, but is this the beginning of the end? Here, experts discuss the real issues our world faces due to this Miley Cyrus movie... and the others that will come.



- Bill

Monday, April 13, 2009

2002: Year Of The Treadmill! (part one)

No, this isn’t about how I joined a gym and lost 30 pounds...
It’s about how I spent the entire year running as fast as I could and getting nowhere.
That statute of limitations has probably run out on this one, so why not share it?

It all started at the end of 2001 - I was on the jury of the Raindance Film Festival along with director Mike Figgis (LEAVING LAS VEGAS) and babe actress Saffron Burrows (DEEP BLUE SEA). It was a real high-point in my life... arguing with Saffron about a movie that she hated so much, she wanted to throw me out of a window because I liked it. I had a great time seeing movies for 14 hours a day for 10 days... and when I came home I had a meeting with a producer I had never worked with before.

My career happens by accident, and this was no different. I have no agent, no manager, and no gardener who also blows Tom Cruise’s leaves. Though I strongly advocate queries and cold calls, it’s a case of “Take my advice, I’m not using it.” I *do* query and cold call, but not very often. I used to send out query letters 3 times a year to a list of producers, but I’ve been kind of lax on that for a while. Usually once a year I send queries to the same producers - never anyone new. That’s a big mistake. When I go for a while without work, I get motivated. If there’s still money in the bank from the last deal, I am less motivated. So many of my gigs happen through no real effort on my part - no obvious cause and effect - by accident. Someone passes someone a script.

In this case, the producer had read something of mine a long time ago and remembered it, and when they saw some movie on cable I wrote, they decided to track me down and see what I was up to. So, I had a meeting, left a new script, pitched a potential project, and drove home. This producer had been making network MOWs for years, but had just snagged a deal with MGM - a studio without a studio - to make low budget theatrical genre films for them. Budgets $10 million or less. Now, that can get you a really nice movie with a low-end star in the lead that will play theatrical and make some money. Though the Jason Statham movies cost more than that today, back then you could make a film with someone like him as the star and have it be that kind of junky action film that opens at #1 over the weekend.

I was sure that this was just another wheel-spinning meeting that required me to drive to Santa Monica where MGM had its “campus” and then get stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home. But the producer liked my new script (or his reader did) and called me in for another meeting. The producer wanted a movie that could star Jamie Lee Curtis. A thriller. He wanted me to pitch five ideas and he’s select one.

Now, to you Jamie Lee Curtis may just be the actress who sells that yogurt that makes you poop on TV, but to me - well, she’s the star of HALLOWEEN and showed her boobies in TRADING PLACES and was Ah-nuld’s wife in TRUE LIES. She’s in a bunch of my favorite movies and her career has been part of my life. I’ve had a crush on her forever. I would have paid to write a script for her... but this looks like they’re going to pay me!

I came up with a bunch of ideas for Jamie, including a cool one called BREAKING NEWS about an overly ambitious news reporter who crosses the police tape and ends up being kidnaped by armed robbers who use her news van to escape... and now has to figure out how to stay alive when she is the center of the news story. But that’s not the one he liked...

He liked this cool story about newlyweds who dock their rented sailboat at the Friendly Islands, where the husband is kidnaped (the bad guys think the Husband and Wife own the sailboat and are wealthy), wife has no money so she must kick butt to rescue husband. Sort of BRIDE WORE BLACK meets RAMBO meets PROOF OF LIFE. The producer asked me to write a detailed 15 page treatment that he could take to Jamie Lee Curtis. And he paid me to write the treatment. I don’t remember what the treatment rate was then, but it was in the low 5 figures.

I wrote it, delivered it to the producer... and he wanted to meet with me because he had some notes on the treatment. Okay, maybe he didn’t like the scene where she flirts with the cop in order to get him to help her...

No. He had a new idea... a better idea! You see, he’d just met with a film studio in Mexico and could get a deal to film there. And he didn’t like the husband thing, what if it was a mother whose SON is kidnaped? Can I come back in a week with the mother/son version of this idea? Sure!

A week later I’m telling him this great story about a school teacher whose son gets in trouble so they rent a boat for a month to sail the coast of Mexico - so she can spend time with the kid and try to straighten him out. The producer said it sounded great - we went over a couple of details - he asked me if I could write up a 15 page synopsis so he could get it to Jamie Lee Curtis.

I delivered the treatment a week later...

That treatment is here:
The Third Law

But a strange thing had happened while I was writing the treatment. MGM had released a string of expensive flops - WINDTALKER and HART’S WAR and ROLLERBALL: THE AWFUL REMAKE - and had come up with a new company game plan... a good one... they were going to focus on lower budget films that would make their money back on video if they didn’t do well theatrically. Movies like those junky little $10 million action films that open at #1 over the weekend then drop off the charts... but continue to do well in the home video market. And *my producer* was the guy they were betting the studio’s future on!

So, a couple of weeks after turning in the treatment I had another meeting with the producer. Even though the synopsis was exactly what we talked about, the game had changed and now he thought that aiming at a younger audience was the way to go. Jamie Lee Curtis appeals to an older audience, and MGM was now looking for something that would work for that 15-25 demo that buys tickets every weekend. I said that I thought the Jamie Lee Curtis story we had might work for that because the kid is in that age range, and everyone has a mom. Having a mom as the lead means that old kids and young kids and people my age could identity with the story. Four quadrants.

But he wanted the *lead* to be 15-25 years old... could I come back in a week with 5 story ideas I could pitch with leads in that age range? Sure. No extra money - this is technically one of those evil free rewrites, but this is all leading to a screenplay that is all leading to a film production... and there is money on the horizon.

Oh, and the producer had found this great studio deal in Portugal of all places, could I come back in a week with 5 script ideas for 15-25 year old leads that takes place in Portugal? Um, sure.

Then, things got worse... (part two on Wednesday)

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Act Two Terror and that awful remake of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS.
Yesterday’s Dinner: With my parents - in town for a dart tournament.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Book 'Em Danno!

A couple of days ago I was poking around on the rewrite of the action book - I'm making progress, but it's slow. I have so many things going on that the book projects keep getting pushed aside. Yesterday's blog entry mentioned the story board panel I used as a cover illustration, and yesterday someone posted on my website messageboards that a copy had popped up on e-bay:

EBAY COPY:


And I thought, I should put up an image of my book on that blog entry so that you can *see* the storyboard panel I was talking about. But, not that ratty e-bay image. So I went to Amazon... where there are three people selling copies of my book for over $100!

Pisser is - I don't make a cent on any of these re-sales! It's like selling your 68 Mustang to somebody when it was just an old used car... and years later you discover the person you sold it to has now sold it to a collector for $50,000. Dang! Should have held onto it!

AMAZON COPIES:



Even that e-bay copy is selling for more than the cover price, and it's actually kind of a deal (even though it's in crappy condition) because the *words* are all still there. I own a whole bunch of used books, some have since fallen apart and are held together by rubber bands, but I can still read the words. Many of my Parker novels are screwed up - I bought them used, and instead of preserving them so that I could sell them to some collector, I read and reread them until the binding wore out and the glue keeping the pages in place failed. Rubber bands to the rescue!

I have books I bought in high school, in junior high... and probably some I bought in the 6th grade. What's the oldest book you own?

- Bill

PS: Check out this Great Screenwriting Job!

Kiss Of Death

This is Richard Widmark's first film role... and he steals the movie. Notice how the character is in contrast with himself - that's what makes him interesting. In films we'd had happy-go-lucky people who enjoyed their work, and we'd had hit men... but never happy-go-lucky hit men who enjoyed their work! He does those two things that don't seem like they belong together, and makes it all seem natural.



And another attack on Great Britain, sorry!

UK's Movies For Men 2:

Sunday April 12th, 21:00 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

Tuesday April 14th, 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Tuesday April 14th, 22:05 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

I'm sorry for the pain I have caused anyone who watches these.

- Bill

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bill On The Radio Again

So I was on the Screenwriter's Utopia radio show Wednesday night, with special guest Max Adams. I talked a bit about introducing your lead character, then they introduced Max and spent the last half hour interviewing her. Max managed to win the Nicholl and the Austin screenwriting contest in the same year (like, weeks apart) with two different scripts. That's how you know you're a good writer - you have two different scripts each win one of the top contests!

Here's a link to the podcast...

Utopia Podcast.

Hmm, maybe I should get me one of them radio shows....

- Bill

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Tenant... Remake!

So I found out a while back that they are remaking one of my favorite films, THE TENANT. Michael Bay is producing. This seems like such an unlikely movie to remake because the first time around it didn’t burn up the box office - it’s kind of a cult film - and even though it’s based on a novel, it’s success is mostly due to its director, Roman Polanski. (Hey, didn’t Bill do a post on that guy a week ago, and that CHINATOWN film he directed?)

I am a fan of Polanski - not his criminal activities, but his film direction. This guy has a real style that can make the most normal scene into something creepy. It takes a while for the plot to kick in on ROSEMARY’S BABY, but you know from the start that something is very wrong because of the way Polanski shoots things. There’s a scene in ROSEMARY where the camera is looking through a door frame, and the subject is just off camera - you can see her legs, but her face only if she leans forward. And as a viewer you try to lean forward to get a better view. He loves to have the camera slightly tilted in scenes - not enough for you to notice, but enough for you to feel like something is wrong. And he does a strange thing in THE TENANT by building a room and furniture just a little bit larger than normal for a shot - so you don’t consciously notice the difference, but get the feeling that the protagonist is smaller than he was a minute ago. Not smaller in stature as much as smaller as a person. Polanski does all of this crazy stuff to make his films creepy and odd, and it’s usually not the *plot* that makes one of his films stand out as much as it’s the way he shoots and edits and the strange little moments. THE TENANT is an amazing collection of creepy moments shot in a creepy way, with a story that is also kind of creepy.

The story is kind of what would happen if Woody Allen wrote a haunted house movie. There is a serious housing shortage in Paris, and our hero Trelkovsky comes up with a great method for finding an apartment... he looks through the obituaries. When he reads a news story about a woman who tried to commit suicide by jumping out her apartment window and is not expected to live, he figures he’s found a place to live. He goes to the building, where he meets the manager (Shelly Winters) and the building owner who lives there (Melvin Douglas) and they give him the third degree. They are really picky about who they rent to. Of course, they can’t rent him the apartment until the last tenant dies. He goes to visit the last tenant, Simone Schull, at the hospital... to see how close to dying she is. He wants this apartment!

There he meets Simone’s hot friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani who was Warren Beatty’s girlfriend at the time), and he has to pretend he knew Simone. When he flirts with this girl, completely out of his league, she flirts back - they have poor Simone in common. At Simone’s bedside in the hospital - she is covered head to toe in bandages with only her eyes and mouth exposed - Simone takes one look at Trelkovsky, screams, and dies. He has his apartment!

But the apartment is, well, strange. First - all of Simone’s clothes and belongings are there. And everyone from the guy at the corner store to the local restaurant confuses him with Simon Schull - even though she was a woman and he is a man... and they don’t look a bit alike. Soon his life has gone to hell...

Here's the Trailer:


One of the cool things in the film is the use of the Luma Crane - first time it was used on a film. This device is an "arm" the camera goes on that can pan and tilt, allowing the camera to do all kinds of cool things. It's used in the opening title sequence, which has some similarities to Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW opening titles, in fact - the film is kind of like REAR WINDOW on acid...



What right does my head have to call itself me?



Filthy little brat!



Those wacky neighbors! This scene, near the end of the film, actually makes complete sense by this point in the film... The movie does a great job of making the crazy seem so normal, that we understand why he's wearing a dress and make up.



Now, can you imagine the mainstream version of this film aimed at the 15-25 year old demographic? If someone in that demo came to see this, thinking it was going to be a horror movie like FRIDAY THE 13th, what would they think?

The good news about the remake is that they have the amazing Scott Kosar scripting. He wrote THE MACHINIST, which has some similarities. Of all the screenwriters working in the biz today, he's the perfect match for this story... but who the hell will they get to direct it? And how will they sell something this weird to a mainstream audience?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Great Character Introductions and those PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Popeye's Chicken - more grease! But *great* biscuits!
Pages: One scene on the Country-Western script, and I'd hoped to do three. But progress is progress.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Remakes

Remake Fever Strikes Hollywood - Spec scripts are dead!

Last year there were only 88 spec script sales, this year?

- Bill

What's Going On?

(I love that Marvin Gaye song)

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted about my remake project, and I have a good excuse.... I didn’t know what was going on. That’s frustrating.

The last news I got was at the FRIDAY THE 13th premiere when I ran into the producer and asked him how it was going and he said, “Fine.” The producer on the project isn’t the kind of guy to just call to see how you are doing. He’s a busy man, making deals and putting together film projects. People often mistake being busy with being rude - the producer is actually a really nice guy. A friendly guy. I like him. I like working with him. He just has a bunch of things going on at the same time and must focus on what is important *right now*. My writing is over, it is no longer important. Remember this when you don't get that instant return phone call on your project. I also bumped into the company’s head of production that night, and he gave me the details - the script had gone out to some places and everybody loved it. A director they like had read it and would be interested if there was a star attached, so the next step was to get it out to some talent.

But not the star we originally wanted. When I began writing the script, there was an actor that everybody loved - including me - who would have just been perfect for the role and would have brought attitude to the part. He had been playing sidekick type roles in movies, and stealing the show. One of those guys who wasn’t the star, but may have actually been the main reason why you went to see the movie - this guy was great. While writing the script, I tried to make sure it would work for this actor... though not be dependant on him. What if he was too busy playing sidekicks in other movies to star in ours and we had to get someone else? Always a bad idea to tailor a role to an actor you haven’t signed. I remember back on TREACHEROUS doing drafts for every star the script went out to... and we *did* land Mickey Rourke based on the boxing draft... but when Hemdale went bankrupt we lost Rourke and I was back to writing drafts for other actors... most of which we did not sign. That's a lot of rewriting for nothing!

But if this remake project’s lead character could sound *close* to the sidekick guy’s voice and yet still be a fully formed character that any other actor could play? That was the goal. Except, by the time I wrote FADE OUT, someone else had realized the value of this sidekick actor and gave him a lead... in a film that was successful enough that he was now a star and his agent had booked him in as many films as he could while the iron was hot. He was now unavailable for the near future.

So, someone else would play the lead.

Now, here is the problem with casting the star of a movie - all stars are equal in the eyes of a producer. That is, they are more concerned with the star power and less concerned with the actor fitting the role. Early in the project a bunch of star names were tossed around for he lead, and half of them were just plain wrong. Stars, yes. People who came even close to fitting the role, no. One actor was too young to have experienced the character’s backstory and still have time for the current story. So I had no idea who they were going to send the script out to, now.

When you don’t know what happens, it feeds into that writer’s paranoia. Are they not telling me for a reason? Have I been replaced by David Koepp? Or a trained chimp who will get all of the credit, then bite my face off at the premiere? Is Octo-Mom doing rewrites on the script? Why are they keeping me out of the loop?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I called to see how things were doing and talked to the producer who said, “Fine” again. I mentioned that if the director they liked was not available, I have a connection to a director who had done a film in the genre a couple of years ago that got all kinds of great reviews, even though the scheduling and release of the film had been screwed up and the film wasn’t a box office hit. Due to the great reviews, the director had landed a fairly big gig, he was in post on that now, and was probably wondering what his next directing job was going to be. He’s an undervalued director with a potential slot on his schedule - could I drop by the office and drop off a DVD of his first film? The onbe all of the critics loved? “Fine.”

This gets me through the gates and into the office. One of the reasons why it’s good for a screenwriter to live in Los Angeles is you can do things in person - which gets you on the lot and into the producer’s office where they will see you and remember you and you may end up with another job. Woody Allen says 80% of anything is just showing up. I probably landed a couple of assignments just by showing up in person to pick up a check or look at poster art or drop off some paperwork. If you show up at the office at the same time they are looking for a writer, you may end up with a gig. Even if they don’t have an assignment, this is a business of relationships - and showing up in person is a great way to keep that relationship with the company at the forefront of their minds. You tell a couple of jokes while you are there and shake some hands and high five some people and this reminds them of what a great guy you are to work with. Thought I don’t expect some other gig to result from me dropping off the DVD, maybe I’ll find out what’s going on... if Octo-Mom is there getting rewrite notes...

But instead of Octo-Mom, I talk to the head of production who fills me in, sort of. He tells me they have a new star who likes the script (right age, even though he doesn't look it), their director choice is still interested (but I get the feeling this guy is fielding offers and will pick the one he likes most), and everything is still moving forward... slowly.

It’s not that they are keeping me out of the loop on purpose, it’s just that at this point of the deal I am not even part of the loop. The writer has nothing to do with signing actors and directors and putting together the package that gets the producer the best possible studio deal (my deal does not change, even if he gets paid twice as much money). So they are off doing their thing and I am off doing mine. No news is not bad news...

But after a couple more weeks my paranoia is back, and I’m getting ready to call or e-mail the producer when I get an e-mail from him. From the actual producer. And it says more than "Fine". Octo-Mom *is* rewriting my script! That is why she hasn’t been taking care of her kids and Gloria Allred is fighting mad...

No. Just an update. Though I suspect there may actually be someone else doing some script tweaks (or that might just be my paranoia), the news is: it seems like they have a star interested, that director is still interested, and they are going after (and probably have by now) the sidekick actor - a TV star who has played *the lead* in at least one movie I have seen. What’s interesting to me about the casting of this sidekick role is that they have picked someone who resembles the actor who played the role in the original film... rather than someone who resembles the character in my script. The script was written to open up the possibilities for casting by giving more character to the character - making them more than just a sidekick. The actor they have is great, but one of the strange things about a remake is that everyone has a preconceived notion of what the characters should be and what the story should be and how each scene should play out... because they keep thinking of the original film. This limits the possibilities of the remake, instead of opening up the remake to something that isn’t just a carbon copy. Sometime in the future, when the statute of limitations on this project have expired, I’ll probably talk about the difficulties of writing a remake. Do you just remake the original or do you use the original as a jumping off point for something different?

But it seems like they are sticking with their initial director choice, no mention at all of the DVD I left them. This isn’t a big deal, their director is “hot” right now. But “hot” is one of those funny things in Hollywood. I am not “hot” - I’ve been around too long. To be “hot” in Hollywood, you must be mostly *potential*. Their hot director came from another occupation in the film biz where he was very successful, and has made one film which happens to be in this genre... which has not been released. The director I suggested has made a film in this genre which has been released and got excellent reviews but wasn’t a big hit. As strange as this sounds, their director’s unreleased film has the *potential* to be a massive hit! So the less actual experience you have, the more *potential* you have. More on *potential* when I post part 2 in a couple of days...

But here’s what’s going on with the remake project - star, sidekick and director are close to signing, then some other stuff happens, then they schedule it and then they make it and then Octo-Mom goes on Dr. Phil to talk about her new movie coming out...

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The DVD Explosion Part One.
Yesterday’s Dinner: El Pollo Loco... I *must* eat more green stuff in the future. I used to eat salads regularly, but for some reason I am not near the places where they serve the green stuff. I do eat a lot of chicken, though.
Pages: After beating my head against the wall on my country-western bar script, I finally figured out the problem and think it's smooth sailing until the end. Of course, this may all change if I hit another roadblock tomorrow.

I am on the radio tomorrow: Screenwriter's Utopia Script Talk - with that smokin' hot Nicholl's Fellowship winner, Max Adams. My guess is that we'll be discussing contests, and breaking in by just being a damned excellent writer.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Hidden Meaning of THE WIZARD OF OZ

When we think of THE WIZARD OF OZ we think of a fun kid’s story about a farm girl named Dorothy and her little dog Toto who are whisked away by a tornado to a magical kingdom populated by fantasy characters and she must sing and dance and skip down the yellow brick road to see the Wizard so that he can use his special powers to send her back home... to Kansas.

What we don’t think of is an economic treatise on the importance of maintaining the gold standard even in the face of rapid deflation, and the bureaucratic issues of early 20th century politics. You probably wouldn’t see the Tin Man as symbolic of the industrial worker and the Scarecrow as symbolic of the small time farmer and the Cowardly Lion as politician William Jennings Bryant who was endorsing the Silver standard instead of gold.

Okay, all of that is about to change... because THE WIZARD OF OZ isn’t really some fun kid’s story, it has a hidden meaning...

The True Story Behind The Wizard Of Oz!

What's the hidden meaning in *your* script?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Forward Momentum and superheroes... and DAREDEVIL.
Yesterday’s Dinner: A massive burrito.

Movies: Saw ADVENTURELAND Friday night (is that the sequel to SAW where the college kids wake up at a crappy theme park handcuffed to a game, and have to eat a bunch of bad corn dogs to escape?).

The film is a coming of age story, not an Apatow stoner comedy, even though it was directed by the guy who directed SUPERBAD. Though it’s not a crazy comedy, I think it has enough funny stuff to entertain someone who thought it would be SUPERBAD 2 - ELECTRIC BUGALOO. The hero’s crotch punching ex-best friend is always doing something funny and just plain wrong, and Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig manage to be funny and still remain real characters. There is enough comedy to keep that SUPERBAD audience watching... while the story and characters suck them in.

Story in a nut shell: James (Jesse Eisenberg) has to skip his summer Europe trip and get a job when his parents run into hard times. Before the hard times, his family was upper middle class, so James has never had a real job... his resume consists of editing his school literary magazine and mowing a neighbor’s lawn when he was a kid... So he ends up working at a crappy theme park where he learns about just about everything important in life. Oh, and it's a comedy so he's also trying to get laid.... since he is branded with "The Scarlet V".

James would like to work Rides, where the cool kids work... but ends up working Games with all of the other social misfits. There he meets uber-geek Joel (Martin Starr) and troubled Em (Kristen Stewart) ... and they become the three musketeers of the rigged games at the theme park. James and Em may not seem like they have much in common, but they seem to be at the same place in life at the same time... and a relationship begins to build. James may be able to lose that Scarlet V if he plays his cards right.

Ryan Reynolds plays studly rides repair guy Connell, who becomes Mentor and Friend and... antagonist... to James. Connell is rumored to have once jammed with Lou Reed. He’s married to a hot waitress at the local night club, and all of the gals think he’s dreamy. What’s interesting about this character is that he might have easily become just a good looking villain, but instead he becomes a tragic figure by the end. When you feel sorry for the antagonist, that’s a great movie!

The relationships in this movie were very realistic - messy and screwed up and yet, people love each other and care about each other. There were no clear cut villains, everyone is a shade of gray. And the film is deceptively well written - it seems like things happen naturally, just like in real life, and seems there is no larger plot... except every single scene in the film is there for a reason and every character and moment are actually leading somewhere. This script is so tightly written, so precise, that you can not see any of the plot points. They are there, and once we get to the end of the film, those little moments you thought were throw aways are revealed to be important parts of the overall plot.

MILD SPOILER EXAMPLE

The hottest girl working at the theme park is Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), every guy wants to sleep with her. She knows she's hot. She shoots down guys right and left.

There's a little throw away scene where James and Lisa P have a conversation at work. It seems like one of those small, natural, not plot oriented scenes.

Every guy in the park - both employees and customers - hits on Lisa P... but James asks about her parents. She tells him about her dad, who lost his job and is depressed. The conversation has this great built in suspense, because James is a major dork and will eventually blurt out something stupid. He's terrible with women. His awkwardness is funny. And even if James doesn't say something stupid, Lisa P *knows* she's hot and *knows* James is a dork, and she will probably just shoot him down for practice. As they keep talking about Lisa's dad, you keep waiting for James to say something stupid or Lisa to realize she's talking to a loser...

And that tension is entertaining.

What they are talking about is their parents, their relationships with their parents, and themselves. It's all about character. And the most amazing thing about this scene and a few others between the two characters is that Lisa P's dad is a very real character in this film - even though we never see him.

Now, this scene seems like a throw away, but it really is all about the plot - it secretly sets up romantic possibilities between the dork and the hot chick. And those romantic possibilities throw a major curveball into the story and the relationship between James and Em.... this little scene creates a *major* change in the story... but we won't know that until later.

This scene, and all of the dialogue in it, moves the story forward, is entertaining, and reveals character big time. The film is deceptive - you think it’s just a collection of scenes, but really it is tightly plotted and even the smallest moment is there for a reason.

END MILD SPOILER

One thing I really liked about the movie - something very difficult to do - are the characters who are *never seen* who you know and care about. Lisa P's dad and Em's mom are never seen on screen, but are parts of the story. These are real people off screen who are just as real to us as the people on screen.

Another thing I liked that very few will notice - one of the guys who interviewed James for a job in the first scenes of the film was a customer in the restaurant scene much later in the film. That made this whole world seem real to me. Kind of a SLACKERS moment - Hey, I know that guy!

And I really liked what wasn't said in the film - the scene with James and his father after James gets drunk and in big trouble... where the father says nothing, but he is the focus of the scene. The great scene with James and Joel in his backyard while the kid is mowing the lawn (some important things are not discussed, but are still in that scene). Even if you came for SUPERBAD, I think you'll still want James and Em to get together... and feel the heartbreak when things don't happen the way they usually do in a Hollywood movie. I liked this movie while I was watching it, and thinking back over it - like it even more. It’s one of those films that sticks with you. Funny and real and heartbreaking and you’ll remember that first really crappy job you had... and the first time you fell in love with someone who had many more problems than you have.

There’s some dried puke over there, could you clean it up?

- Bill

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The SAW Game

I am a smart ass and a practical joker. If you’ve ever heard the long version of selling my first script to Hollywood, the version that includes the back and forth practical jokes my friends used to play on each other, and how I was *sure* this phone call was my buddy Van Tassell getting back at me for a prank I pulled on him after we both attended a party where alcohol was consumed, you already know this. One of my scripts that has been on the drawing boards forever - NIGHT STOCKERS - is about my years working at Safeway grocery and all of the pranks we used to pull on each other. On the midnight to 9am stocking crew, we often did crazy things like take all of the tennis shoes from that strange catch-all aisle of the supermarket and wrap them in the meat department with labels that said “Fillet of Sole” - then set them out for the morning butchers to deal with. The butcher would figure out some way to get back at us... often involving raw meat in our lockers.

On another message board, whenever one of the folks posts a thread called “Saw Watchmen” I will reply with...

“Is that the sequel to SAW where The Comedian and Night Owl wake up in an abandoned warehouse handcuffed to the wall with a rusty old saw on the floor between them and fight over who will saw off their own legs to escape first? But The Comedian just rips his own leg off and then shoots Night Owl for fun? Yeah, I heard about that... was it any good? Did Silk Spectre 2 get that booby trap off her boobies before it exploded? Did Dr. Manhattan make it through the maze of crotch high cactus okay?”

“Saw Duplicity”

“Is that the sequel to SAW where Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are ex-spies who wake up in the room surrounded by a pool of common face cream and rusty old experimental five blade disposable razors and they’ve got to walk through that stuff without slipping to get out... before a bomb goes off... and the key to stop the bomb was hidden in a martini olive that Roberts drank in the scene before, and now it’s in her stomach... and she’s not sure she can trust Owens to get it out, and he’s not sure he can trust her about anything, but they are in love with each other? Yeah, I heard about that, is it any good?”

Okay, folks, now it is your turn to play the SAW game on the comments section! Have fun!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Sledge Hammer Of Subtlety and BLOOD DIAMOND.
Yesterday’s Dinner: KFC - I needed my yearly minimum requirements of grease... it's the word.
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