Tuesday, June 30, 2009

IMDB hates screenwriters

UPDATE: Two days after posting this and contacting some WGA board members, IMDB has managed to see the error of their ways and change it back to the way it was.

IMDB has just *dumped* screenwriters from the main page for every movie. Director is listed, cast is listed... not screenwriter! We get dumped to the bottom of the page with the running time and Swedish Censor Board Rating and other "additional details". I looked up BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and Charlie Kaufman has been pushed down there with the statistics - he's the only *person* down there! That's kind of a Charlie Kaufman script idea in the making.

Though the WGA should begin an anti-IMDB/Amazon campaign, while we are waiting for that to happen, why not write them? And spread this to any writer friends you have. If they get thousands of letters, they may read one of them.

IMDb.com, Inc.
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108-1226

I can't tell you how angry this makes me. We work our asses off, we get crapped on again and again, we only get mentioned in reviews when the critic hates the film and mentions all of the script defects caused by those crap notes we hated or the director's stupid idea or the star's rewrite, and now *this*? If there was an IMDB employee in this Starbucks I would kick them in the face - even though that is not one of my skills and I would land on my ass.

I don't understand the *purpose* for this change.

- Bill

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Best Transformers 2 Review

I haven't seen it, and it seems like my boycott thing was a complete failure. The reviews - like Ebert's hysterical piece and his blog entry on how TRANSFORMERS 2 signals the end of the world, are great reading - funnier than most movies - but this review will save you having to ever see the movie...

TOPLESS ROBOT!

Enjoy.

- Bill

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP - Happens In Threes

They say celeb deaths comes in threes, and today's pair close out the set. All three were part of my generation's pop culture.

When you're a kid, being old enough to stay up and watch THE TONIGHT SHOW was a rite of passage. You always knew who Johhny and Ed were, but to see them on the show... that meant you were almost an adult. Ed McMahon was a great straight man for Johnny, and his phrases are used by people today (including me). He did a bunch of commercials, and even popped up in some movies that I saw at the drive in... as the evil mob boss.

Ed McMahon in SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP OFF...


When I learned of Farrah's passing this morning I mentioned on a message board that my collection of shorts - SHORTS OF BILL MARTELL - featured her iconic poster on a pair of boxers. She was on the shorts. There was an iron on transfer of her poster, and the girl I was dating back then did the ironing. The film's titles played over the shorts with her iconic image. That was the joke - that her poster was everywhere. She was everywhere. Later she struggled to fit in as an actress, rather than a sex symbol. She made a great TV film THE BURNING BED, and then tried to catch that lightning in a bottle again, with mixed results.

Farrah Fawcett in EXTREMITIES...


I remember watching dance shows on Sunday afternoons, like SOUL TRAIN with Don Cornelius. I always joke that growing up in the East East Bay Area, you could turn your radio dial in one direction and get the Oakland stations and in the other direction and get the Stockton stations... I went for Oakland and MoTown over Country Western. I have no idea on what show I first saw The Jackson 5, but they had pop hit after pop hit. Michael grew up as I did, went out on his own, and managed to be a huge hit machine in the 80s... Can you remember the first time you saw the THRILLER video? Wow! I remember dancing in clubs with a succession of girls to Billy Jean and a bunch of his other songs. But the song I most remember by Jackson was from a horror movie.

Michael Jackson... BEN theme...


All will be missed. Already, I can't get that BEN theme out of my head.

- Bill

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Please Be Careful!

Just saw this on the news, and it's kind of disturbing. I know that many of you folks are too busy writing to watch the news, so you may have missed all of these events when they happened. When I was riding my bike last night, I thought I may have seen one of these escapees...



- Bill

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Flash Mob: Skip TRANSFORMERS this weekend.

Let's see how much power the audience has. This weekend has been set aside for TRANSFORMERS 2... no other major releases will open. In limited release we have Katheryn Bigelow's HURT LOCKER which looks great... and I think she's a great director who deserves a big break. If you are interested in that film, and you live in one of the cities where it's playing, why not see HURT LOCKER instead of TRANSFORMERS 2?

If you don't live in one of those cities, why not skip TRANSFORMERS and see UP or HANGOVER or PROPOSAL again? Or whatever movie that's slipped past in the glut of summer movies and may be on its way out of cinemas? If you're going to see a movie this weekend, why does it have to be the new one?

Michael Bay got paid $80 million for the first TRANSFORMERS, let's see if we can make him sweat a little?

Pass it on... It will be a fun little game for all of us to play - and be sure to tell anyone you know in Hollywood's coveted 15-25 year old demographic to play along. See something *other than* TRANSFORMERS 2 this weekend and see what happens. Let's see if we can make it #2 instead of #1! Now *that* would be messing with Hollywood!

- Bill

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Monsterpalooza & Christian Thrillers

Three weeks ago I got a couple of calls from friends asking if I was going to Monsterpalooza. “What’s that?” “Well, it’s this convention for people who are into horror movie make up.” “Sounds like the old version of Fango.” So, I went - and it was the show Fango should have been! Really cool! It was at the Burbank Marriot where Fango was up until a couple of years ago, and that is not only down the street from me - it’s a great venue. The problem with Fango at the Convention Center is that it’s downtown - parking is expensive and there isn’t much around... and the place is huge - Fango was a BB in a boxcar. The hotel is big enough to house everything, but not so big that the place seems empty even when it’s full of people. So Monsterpalooza seemed crowded, and alive and exciting - just because of venue choice.

But what was inside the venue was what made it great. Where Fango seems to have targeted the tattoo crowd with their ass-hanging out skank girls, Monsterpalooza seems to be targeting make up people. The show is all about film monster make up, and it seemed much more like the old Fango... just better. Oh, and I think cheaper. It cost me $5 less than the Fango admission. I wonder if that’s because of the venue? Is Fango thinking the Convention Center makes them look like major players or something? Who cares about that stuff? I want to see cool horror movie stuff!

And Monsterpalooza delivered. They had a “monster museum” that was completely free with the price of admission - it was a whole room filled with everything from life sized statues of famous horror figures from the past (Karloff sipping tea while they apply the Frankenstein’s Monster make up) to the actual mechanical monsters and costumes used in famous movies, to small test models that show the design of a creature before they build the real one. Oh, and paintings and sketches. It was like a tour of the KNB workshop (much of their work was displayed). This was so cool, it was worth the price of admission. I went back and did the museum a second time.

In the center of all of these events is the dealer’s room, and where Fango’s room was half the size it was last year and filled with weird tattoo stuff, Monsterpalooza’s room.... or should I say *rooms*... were packed with all of the typical horror movie stuff that Fangos had, plus a bunch of vendors who specialize in movie make up and movie monster stuff. When you walk in to the big room, you are greeted by singing dancing animatronic skeletons! A company that builds and sells these things. There were several places that sold fake blood, and foam & latex supplies (for making your own monster) and lots of places with one-of-a-kind monster masks you could buy. Plus the regular vendors of horror movie stuff. And the big dealer’s room had some life sized monster statues you could have your picture taken with - for free. The Creature From The Black Lagoon! And there were stars autographing - but it seemed more fun for the stars at Monsterpalooza - they weren’t sitting in the back of the room at some empty table - they were right in the middle of everything. Maybe that was part of what made the big dealer’s room work - it didn’t seem to be in theme sections, so instead of one more damned guy selling posters on this aisle, it was all jumbled up and some really cool thing was next to the poster guy.

Though I think the big room was just as big as Fango’s dealer’s room this year, at the Burbank Marriot there is usually some spill to the small rooms... and here the small rooms were all some amazing little find. When Fango was at the Burbank Marriot the small rooms were where they dumped those guys who made a movie in their back yard, couldn’t find a distrib, and bought a table at Fango to sell the film, plus any really cheap junky vendor they didn’t want in the main room. At Monsterpalooza they had designed a “flow” to the small rooms - they connected to the big room. And the small rooms all seemed to have at least one treasure - a display of amazing models for monsters not yet in any movie, a company specializing in horror props, etc.

Though I only went to one panel, it was also worth the price of admission. It took forever to set up, while we were just sitting there waiting, but they did a class on blood effects. It was half stand up comedy and half nuts & bolts instruction on how to use movie blood. This guy was funny, and had some (planted) audience members spraying blood across the stage. He showed you how to build your own non-explosive blood squibs (just like the ones I made when I was doing Super 8mm... only much much better!) and where to buy the different parts and even how to best assemble them. Blood was spraying all over the place! The great thing is that I learned all kinds of cool ways to do it myself when it comes to blood and brain splatter and cutting open someone’s neck and just about any other blood related thing I might do on a low budget film - where to buy the pieces, how to assemble them, how to operate them on set.

The class (really a demonstration to show you the kind of thing you learn in this movie make up school concerning blood effects) was in the same room they used for panels and had a big movie screen on the back wall. They had done all kinds of prep work (which we had to sit there and watch) to put up tarps to protect the screen. But, this guy was a wild man with the blood sprays, and a couple came really close to hitting that screen. His finale was a major spurting of blood from a “volunteer” (poor guy had about a gallon of blood dribble into his pants) and when the volunteer moved just a bit to his left when he wasn’t supposed to... that big movie screen on the wall got sprayed! Oops!

After the event was over everybody went to the hotel restaurant/bar to eat and drink, and it was like old times at the Fango convention. Reminded me of when Fango was at the L.A. Airport hotels, and you would go to the hotel bar and drink with the stars of your favorite horror movies, and some of the directors, too... and when they closed the bar, you might go upstairs to a room party. Then, a couple of hours of sleep, and back to the convention. That kind of energy and excitement is missing from Fango these days, but some of it was at Monsterpalooza... though I didn’t go to any room party. The stars who were signing autographs a minute ago where now at a table in the hotel bar, and you could go over and have a drink with them. The mask makers and monster builders were all there, you could drink with them, too. The whole event seemed more personal and more exciting. I’ll be going next year... I wonder if the movie screen will still be stained with blood?

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Realistic Dialogue and four techniques to create it.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Dinner with my parents (in town for a dart tournament) at Daily Grill
Bicycle: Unfortunately rode my bike to Burbank... without water or liquids and parched myself. I am dehydrated.

MOVIES: DANGEROUS CALLING - I think I first met the Daws Brothers in person at the Screenwriting Expo, in a room filled way over capacity with people standing against every wall a couple of people deep and even a bunch of people sitting on the floor. I think they were on the floor. They won the messenger bag I gave away in that class. I believe I knew them from online for a while before this - probably on the Wordplay message boards. Well, they made their own feature film in beautiful Georgia (the one in the United States, not the one in Russia), and now one of the Bros has moved to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune. Though originally my plan was to buy their film DANGEROUS CALLING online, but when I had lunch with young Jeremiah a couple of weeks ago, he had a copy with him.



The Jos & Jeremiah Daws are the sons of a Baptist Pastor, and DANGEROUS CALLING is a Christian thriller. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film aimed specifically at the Christian audience, so one of the interesting elements of watching this film for me was to see what they could get away with on the thriller side. They made this film on a very low budget, using professional local actors (with credits in films like THE MIST) and probably beg-borrow-and-stealing everything that was outside their budget. The film doesn’t look like it was made on a budget at all - it has some amazing production value... which I’ll get to in a moment, but first the story.

I found the story fascinating.

It seems to be a rif on the Couple-Moves-To-Small-Town-With-A-Secret thriller subgenre, but this town doesn't feature Stepford Wives or Witches or Demon Cults or Aliens, the secret here is something more ordinary... and that makes it more real. Young Pastor Evan Burke (Stephen Caudill) and his wife Nora (Carrie Walrond) are assigned a small town First Baptist church when the previous Pastor dies under... mysterious circumstances. They are new to the town, new to the church... and end up in the middle of some serious church politics. There are two factions within the church: one which wants to reach out to the community and *include* anyone who is interested in attending the church, and the other that is overly fundamentalist and wants to *exclude* anyone who has ever sinned in their life. The latter faction is headed up by wealthy chicken rancher Miss Pat (Jackie Prucha with traces of Carrie White's mom), who makes large donations to the church in order to get her way. She always gets her way.

And, while Evan & Nora’s house is being remodeled, they end up living with Miss Pat and her creepy adult son Elijah (Brandon O'Dell). What they don’t know (but we do) is that Elijah brutally murdered the previous Pastor in the opening minutes of the film. Elijah believes that killing sinners is his job... his mother raised him to see the world in terms of us and them.

Though that builds the thriller side of the story, with creepy Elijah stalking Nora; what I found most interesting was the church politics side of the story. This film’s major conflict is between an old testament fundamentalist faction that practices hatred (Miss Pat) and the (vast majority) new testament group that’s on the love and peace and forgiveness side... with the Burkes in the middle, but actually on the side of Jesus (and love). Because he's the new pastor, Evan has to referee... and there seems to be no way to placate Miss Pat. It’s strange to think that a Christian film would have the balls to take on the Extreme Christian Right like this. Where Miss Pat is all about fire and brimstone and stoning sinners (well, Elijah kills them), the Burkes are more like Rick Warren than Ralph Reed - and preach love and tolerance. When we aren’t in the middle of a suspense scene, this battle between Christian theories is the backbone of the film. Inclusion and exclusion.

There’s a great scene where the church elders (or whatever they’re called) are debating a youth outreach program, and Miss Pat is completely against it because those damned kids are sinners who think of nothing but sex and drugs and rock & roll. We’ve seen these kids - they’re just normal kids! Nora mentions that Jesus ministered to prostitutes and thieves - hey, those people need spiritual guidance just us much (if not more) than the rest of us. But Miss Pat wants the youth outreach program cancelled, and since she’s the biggest patron of the church, she gets her way. She is *buying* her religion... and buying the town to ignore her creepy son Elijah.

Though I found the church politics fascinating, DANGEROUS CALLING is still a thriller. Wack-job Elijah is kind of like Norman Bates (or that crazy preacher Perkins played in CRIMES OF PASSION) - when he finds himself becoming sexually interested in a woman, he stops those sinful thoughts... by killing the woman. So Nora is in danger... and she begins to dig into Elijah’s past and discover a skeleton or two. And Miss Pat manages to make it seem like Nora’s suspicions are more about church politics than Elijah’s past.

SPOILER

This film as a great fake-out suspense scene. Elijah keeps pet snakes, including some poisonous ones, and one of his attempts to kill Nora is by snake. While she is doing laundry, he puts a poisonous snake in a towel in the basket of clean towels she has just taken out of the dryer. Nora takes the towels up to her room to fold... and we get some great suspense as she pulls the towels from the basket one-by-one and folds them. This creates a “countdown” of towels. The snake isn’t in this one. The snake isn’t in the next one. And as each towel is folded and put away, we know she’s getting closer and closer to the one with the snake. She gets to the very last towel, and... There’s no snake! She just folds the towel and puts it away. And, just when you are thinking, “What a rip off!”, we seen the snake crawling behind a pillow on the bed just behind the laundry basket! Now the snake is in the bed, and Nora doesn’t know it! And she’s tired after doing laundry, and wants to take a nap! The great thing about this is that after building the suspense, it dissipates for a moment when the snake isn’t in the last towel, then builds even stronger when we see the snake in the bed.

END SPOILER

One really great thing about this film is the production value - it sure doesn’t look like a low budget film. I was amazed by the chicken ranch scenes. There are several scenes in a huge barn - as far as the eye can see - filled with chickens! That’s a lot of chickens! I don’t think I have ever seen that many chickens at once before. Later we see another *huge* barn, with no chickens. Again - a giant building which gives the film the scope of a big screen movie. The film also does a great job of taking us into the world of chicken ranching, as well as the world of church politics. Miss Pat’s house is also huge, and a scene where those sex, drugs and rock & roll kids come to do free clean up work shows you just how big the place is (and is also a good suspense scene, as Nora is being held hostage and can’t get anyone to help her). The church is huge - a real church, and we get to see just about every inch of it. And there’s a great chase scene through the town. Though most of the film takes place either at Miss Pat’s house or at the Church, the film never feels claustrophobic at all because it uses all kinds of great exteriors. And there are lots of big, wide shots - the film doesn’t suffer from that TV look of many small films, where everything is a close up. This looks like it was shot for the big screen.

Another great thing about the film is that it *is* an inclusion film - there is no black and white in these characters, everyone is a shade of gray. Even Miss Pat is a motivated character that you come to understand by the end. Maybe not agree with, but you can see where she came by her point of view.

There were some times when the film seemed a little “soft” when it came to violence and action, and I suspect that’s to appeal to the core Christian audience. It's more what you would expect to see on TV than what you might find in that low budget film on the bottom shelf at Blockbuster. But there *was* some clever off-screen violence... a firepoker becomes imbedded in someone’s head off screen and must be pried lose. That’s all hinted at, but I figured it out. But I’m not sure there’s any cross-over from the MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN crowd, it’s probably too tame for them. Because I have no idea what a Christian thriller or Christian horror movie entails, I don’t know if this is amazing for that audience or not (but the film has some great reviews on the Christian film websites, one of them calls it the most exciting Christian movie they’ve ever seen).

I think they did a great job of making a small film look big, and making the story interesting to *me* - a guy not in their target audience. I've seen a bunch of low budget films made by people I know, and many of them look cheap. DANGEROUS CALLING looks like a network made for TV movie - it has the production value and level of acting and technical level of any film you have seen on ABC or Hallmark.

I hope Josh & Jeremiah land a major distrib for the movie, and keep making interesting genre films for the Christian audience... or the mainstream audience.

For more info: DANGEROUS CALLING.

- Bill

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Should I Write?

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

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

What do you think?

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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

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

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

MILD SPOILERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Russell on the front porch, scared to death.

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

If it weren’t for the damned kid...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions

JJ Abrams kicks Ray Manzarek's ass on the boards in this Shamberg song from the MTV Movie Awards about action movie explosions. I had to post it here eventually - it's all about action movies...



- Bill

Friday, June 12, 2009

This Week In Review....

It blew.

Started off okay - I finished a script! Wrote fade out on COWBOY NIGHTS, the country western bar thriller on Monday. Was supposed tp have it finished on Thursday, then Friday, then... well, it was great to finally finish it. The plan for this week was to outline and plan two scripts, and write up treatments for each. The NEAR HIT script I had planned on filming in a couple of months, and an action-thriller thing called CONTAINED. That would set both of those up to be written over the next few months. Then, I was going to spend the rest of this month finishing SECOND SON, which was set aside to work on the studio remake project...

But everything went off the rails on Tuesday.

I have always had problems sleeping. Well, for some reason (maybe excited because I finished the script) I could not sleep Monday... and this created a strange ping-pong effect where one night I slept too little and the next I overslept - and then couldn’t sleep the following night. Anyway, the result is - no outlines, no treatments... and no Hitchcock today. Just a complete bust of a week.

And, I have this list of “brain dead” tasks that I can do, but for some reason when I am brain dead I never remember to do any of them.

I also have a huge stack of DVDs to watch, but I don’t stick ‘em in the machine because I’m too tired to really watch them, and what if one is really good? I’d want to be fully awake while I watch it, right? So - I haven’t watched any of tem (and I’ll bet most of them are okay at best). I think watching a movie (with an end) would help me fall asleep more than watching ABC World News Now... which goes on forever, and kind of loops, so you end up watching the exact same story again two hours later.

Probably adding to my inability to sleep is my lack of bike riding over the past week. The weather in Los Angeles has been weird - it’s overcast and threatening to rain every day. The weather people all call it “June Gloom” - but this is the worst it has ever been. I know that raindrops are not going to kill me, but it often looks really nasty out there and I don’t want to get caught far away from home in a major downpour. I have rode a block or two to the corner Starbucks a couple of times, but that’s not a bike ride. I think the lack of exercise isn’t helping at all.

I hope to finish up the I CONFESS Hitchcock entry tomorrow and put it up... but I still haven’t decided if I should do the outlines and treatments next week, or jump into finishing up SECOND SON so that I’ll have it finished more or less by the end of the month. I have to get this sleep thing under control. Yes, I’m taking some over the counter stuff, but it’s not working well - last night I got a little sleepy, went to bed... and after laying there for over an hour without falling asleep, I felt like I was wasting time... and tried to get some work done until I was really sleepy. That was around 4am... and I slept for 4 hours and woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep for a couple of hours. I went without any coffee or caffeine for a couple of days during the week - and that made me even more brain dead, but didn’t seem to help me get my sleep pattern back under control.

I’m going to try to get to sleep early tonight - and try to keep from giving up after a couple of hours of just laying there... I think that’s the real problem - if I don’t fall asleep after a while, I get impatient and sit at the computer. So tonight: I’m going to watch a DVD, then keep trying to fall asleep until I succeed. If you read some quip by me on Facebook or some screenwriting message board at 5am, you will know that I have failed....

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Voice Over Narration and your typical monkey funeral.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fish & Chips at home.
Pages: Was going to write new tips, treatments, and a blog entry every day... completely failed at that.

MOVIES: DRAG ME TO HELL - One of the best reviewed films of the year is a horror flick from Sam Raimi (no kidding, check out Rotten Tomatoes) and it’s one of the best times I’ve had sitting in a cinema all year - a crazy funhouse ride at a disreputable carnival that has you laughing as much as screaming. Though I always stress the importance of having a unique idea, this film gives us horror plot #17 (the gypsy curse one, see THINNER and a few dozen other films) but shows us the importance of *execution*. A good script needs a great idea, well written. Here we just get some great writing and directing and it overcomes the tired concept. Oh, if you are wondering why SPIDER-MAN’s Sam Raimi is directing this film, the guy has a whole bunch of horror skeletons in his closet, including the EVIL DEAD movies. For more on the EVIL DEAD flicks, check out But The Third One Was Great blog, which features those films this week!

In DRAG ME TO HELL, Alison Lohman plays a nice girl destined to always finish last. She used to be fat, has a white-trash Southern accent she’s desperately trying to lose, and is doing her damndest to move up a couple of rungs on the social ladder. She works as a loan officer at a bank, and covets the empty Vice President desk across from her - the name plate is empty as if to visually announce Your Name Here. Her boss is played by David Paymer, kind of the older male version of her... and to keep his job, the person he needs to promote to VP has to be someone strong and aggressive. That’s not Alison, but it is the new guy Reggie Lee who seems to have seen WALL STREET a few too many times and actually believes that Greed Is Good. Alison and Reggie quietly battle it out at the bank every day, each hoping to slide their name into that empty VP name plate.

When a really gross phlegm spewing one eyed old gypsy woman comes in, home in foreclosure, and begs for Alison to give her a third extension; she puts the promotion over compassion. The old woman begs... and Alison calls security on her and has her removed from the bank. This puts her at the top of the promotion list, and the top of the gypsy woman’s shit list.

On her lunch hour, Alison visits her boyfriend Justin Long at the University where he’s a first year professor, and I kept waiting for the “I’m A PC” guy to pop up behind him. Justin is arranging a meet-the-tight-assed-upper-class parents dinner, and Alison is afraid to go - she’s fat white trash. As she leaves his office, she overhears his half of a phone conversation with his mother... and knows his parents will hate her and maybe worries that Justin might be charity-dating her. One of the great things about this film is that it’s all about the characters... and still a horror film. There are so many little background thing on Alison’s character peppered through the film that we really get to know and care about her. Hey, she was in the 4H (or, that reasonable facsimile of the 4H the lawyers and E&O insurance folks signed off on). And the film is really about her character arc, from meek bank employee to bad ass demon fighter who will do things you and I wouldn’t dream of doing.

At the end of the work day she goes to the empty underground garage to grab her subcompact crapo car... and notices the old gypsie woman’s ancient rusted out 70s lemon in the garage. Now, you may not know this, but that car has probably been in more movies that David Paymer. It was Uncle Ben’s car in SPIDER-MAN... and has been featured in every film Sam Raimi has directed. It falls from the sky in ARMY OF DARKNESS... It was Raimi’s personal car for years, and when he could afford better, he kept it and uses it in every film. Here it works wonderfully as the barely running gypsy’s car.

One of the great things about this funhouse ride of a film is that there are no shortage of jump moments. And great jump moments - not some silly cat (though, there are a couple of those) but real scares from unexpected sources. Be prepared to spend half of the movie about a foot above your seat. One great series of jump moments is in the spooky garage, when the gypsie shows up and puts her curse on Alison. This film manages to get us to jump over a handkerchief... and it’s the skill of Raimi that the handkerchief also manages to be creeps and suspenseful and build dread in other scenes. You are scared of a piece of cloth!

Once the curse is on Alison she will die within 3 days and be dragged to hell. But those three days will be hell on earth. And all kinds of sick fun.

One of my favorite scenes has Alison go to the gypsy’s daughter’s house to beg that the curse be removed. The daughter doesn’t live in some magical castle with dark windows - this is Los Angeles, she lives in a typical house in the city with no yard and an ally running down the back where the garbage dumpsters are. It’s plain. She goes there, wants to see the gypsy woman, the daughter says she has caused enough trouble - getting the woman kicked out of her house... but Alison barges in... and she’s in some stranger’s house. And this is uncomfortable. And Raimi finds ways to ramp up the feelings of discomfort, including having the entire gypsy family there for dinner. She’s completely out numbered, and all of these people hate her. This could be a scene from a drama... and it *is* a big dramatic scene... but this is also a horror film. Drama *and* horror. And after the drama scene, we get some horror. Sick, disgusting, and funny horror.

Raimi does a great job of building dread with some very simple things. When Alison comes home one night, she is alone in a dark, spooky... but completely normal house. There is these terrible noise - link fingers on a chalk board - that ends up being the wind blowing open a rusted metal gate. So many everyday things are turned into terror by Raimi that you worry about going home after the film. By creating terror and building dread with normal things you’d find in almost every house, he gets us where we live. This isn’t some alien world - this is a house just like the one you live in. Raimi did this in the EVIL DEAD movies with tree branches in the wind... which become something else entirely. He can make the raisins in a cake creepy and threatening.

By the way - one of the cool things about the film is how ex-fatty Alison seems to constantly be attacked by *food*. It’s like the curse knows her weakness, knows what scares her on a more emotional level (that she’s going to gain the weight back, or maybe people still think of her as the fat girl) and finds ways to attack her using the things she *emotionally* fears most. Food becomes scary in this film... in that wacky funhouse way.

Oh, and there’s some between the lines social message in this film. Alison is white trash who is social climbing and hopes to marry wealthy Justin. To do that, she must foreclose on the home of someone one rung beneath her in society... turn against someone similar to her, the same way she is turning against her accent and her 4H past and everything that made her who she used to be. Trash the poor so that she can become rich. Again - this is a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be more going on in it... in fact, there should always be more than just the surface story.

DRAG ME TO HELL Is rated PG-13, and many horror fans have discounted it before even seeing it. How can you make a good horror movie that isn’t R rated? Well, Raimi knows how to do that. He substitutes gross for gore - and keeps the gross coming! If you’ve seen the trailer, you know there’s a scene where the gypsy woman vomits all kinds of bugs and worms and icky stuff on Alison Lohman’s face. In her eyes, in her mouth, up her nose, in her ears. This is worse that seeing a half gallon of blood spraying from someone’s neck. Your brain knows the blood geyser is fake, but these insects and worms in her mouth and nose? Um, they probably really did that. Yech! You won’t see severed limbs in this film, but you will see things that are worse. This film doesn’t wimp out at all - it just has a different kind of horror. It’s gross (in a fun way).

Which I think brings us to another thing those pimple faced horror fans have complained about on several of the message boards I frequent - that somehow this subgenre of horror is less valid than SAW and FRIDAY THE 13th. That funhouse horror movies are lesser films because they make you laugh. Hey! BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Plus a million other flicks, some starring Vincent Price, some starring the late great Bob Quarry (in one of my films, lived in my neighborhood, just passed away, miss that guy!), and of course the Raimi EVIL DEAD movies. If anything, the funhouse style horror films are *more* legit than torture porn and slasher films - they’ve been around longer. These films are crazy scary rides with all kinds of sick laughs.

And DRAG ME TO HELL is full of sick humor. “Here, kitty kitty...”

One of the cool things about this film is the Multicultural Curse. The film opens in the 1940s when a child has been cursed by a gypsy and the immigrant parents take him to a female Hispanic medium who tries to lift the curse... and fails. The boy is dragged to hell by all kinds of demons. That’s what Alison is in for. After she is cursed, she goes to an Indian store front psychic played by Dileep Rao. Dileep plays the role as if he always has one eyebrow raised quizzically. As if *he* doesn’t believe what is happening. He manages to be both the psychic *and* the skeptic at the same time. He also manages to be funny with the non-funny straight man lines. And he manages to play his store front psychic in such a way that we do not know if he’s for real or just a scam artist. This is like the Whoopi Goldberg role in GHOST - does this mean Dileep will be nominated for an Oscar? Oh, wait, this is both a horror film *and* a comedy. When Dileep is overwhelmed by the curse, he knows right where to take Alison - to the female Hispanic woman from the opening scene, who is now an old woman.

And this is where we get the real star of the movie... a goat. It’s always funny when there is an animal in a long scene filled with special effects and crazy horror stuff, because the animal has no idea what is going on. There is a long seance scene with the goat tethered to the table, and it was funny to watch the goat’s reactions (when I was supposed to be watching Alison or Dileep). The goat was completely confused at all times.

Okay, now I don’t want to spoil the film, but I want to talk about one of the great things in this film - the Twist On A Twist. This is one of those great techniques that Raimi uses which elevates this film from your standard horror film to one hell of a great ride that you probably want to take again. There is a twist in the film that you see coming from a mile away. It is set up, it is confirmed, and you suddenly know exactly what is gong to happen. You figure out the twist... and want to yell at Alison that she is making a big mistake, because there’s this twist thing she hasn’t figured out but you have. Here’s the thing - Raimi *wants* you to figure out the twist. That creates audience superiority and creates suspense. You know what’s going to happen! You know the very very bad thing that Alison hasn’t figured out yet! But what you haven’t figured out is the twist on the twist - because what you think is going to happen is *half* right. But if you were really paying close attention, you would realize that the twist you think is going to happen isn’t going to happen... something even stranger is. And that’s the part you don’t see coming at all. The twist on the twist. So, Raimi sets it up so that you know *part* of what will happen, but still be shocked and surprised by the other part. Great technique!

One of the strange things about DRAG ME TO HELL is that it’s one of the best reviewed films so far this year... but no one is going to see it! You would think a fun film with great reviews would have opened at #1 and done great business. So why isn’t it tearing up the box office? My guess is that the sophisticated audience member who would see any other film with this many great reviews is staying away because it’s a horror movie... they are like Justin’s parents. The average audience member is also staying away because it’s a horror movie - those films are crap made for hard core horror fans. And the hard core horror fans are staying away... because it’s one of the best reviewed films of the year! Hey, that stamp of society’s approval means this can’t be a dark, edgy, nasty horror film... it’s probably some watered down safe movie! The critics *great* reviews may have doomed this film! If you look at horror films the critics have loved in the past - SLITHER, BLACK SHEEP, etc - all of those films died at the box office. Good reviews scare away the horror audience. Yet films with *awful* reviews like FRIDAY THE 13th and BLOODY VALENTINE did great business... maybe even because of the bad reviews. If the critics hate this film, it’s gotta be good!

DRAG ME TO HELL is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. Too bad the film seems to be cursed.

- Bill

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Flash Mob - Can't Touch This!

I love the idea of flash mobs - and even have script idea about a flash mob that gets way out of hand and leads to world destruction.

This happened Thursday...



And HERE is an article about a different kind of flash mob - a Guerrilla Drive In Movie, where a secret radio transmission tells you the time and place where the movie will be projected on some wall... but an interesting and thematic wall! Cool stuff!

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Spade/Van Damme Rule and 50 FIRST DATES.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Islands fish tacos.

Movies: HANGOVER - laughed my butt off.
Pages: *Finished* the country western thiller!

- Bill

And again, my awful movies descend on the UK's Movies 4 Men channels...

M4M2: 6/10 - 13:20 - 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.

M4M1: 6/12 - 18:20 - 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.

M4M1: 6/13 - 18:35 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

M4M1: 6/14 - 12:15 - 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.

M4M2: 6/15 - 14:45 - 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.

I am so sorry....

- Bill

Friday, June 05, 2009

Black Sheep

I may have posted about this movie in the past - written & directed by Jonathan King from New Zealand... and funny as hell. After seeing DRAG ME TO HELL last night, I thought about the horror sub-genre of *funny* horror movies - and this one had me in stitches. Saw it a couple of times when it came out, own it on DVD. If you liked DRAG ME, throws this in the NetFlix cue. And yes - there is a romantic subplot with a sheep... that goes wrong.



- Bill

PS: Fridays With Hitchcock was not ready today, so look for I CONFESS next week.

We've Come A Long Way, Baby!

Swiped this off today's Time Magazine site.

When people ask me what my favorite Woody Allen movie is, I do not answer MANHATTAN or any of the serious ones... I answer BANANAS. It has about as many gags-per-minute as AIRPLANE! (which is a lot) and also managed to be topical and political and about heated toilet seats and Fidel Castro. But one of the scenes has been remade as a Bud Light commercial, which was deemed too dirty for TV (even though the 1971 movie probably plays on TV frequently), so it's available on the good old internet!

This scene from BANANAS (1971)...



Clearly inspired this Bud Light Commercial (now) that is too racy to show on TV and even gets blurred and bleeped on the internet!



We've come a long way, baby... Not!

- Bill

Thursday, June 04, 2009

RIP: David Carradine

A couple of months ago, my article in Script Magazine featured Carradine in BOUND FOR GLORY as an example of a protagonist at war with the whole world. Carradine's performance in that film was amazing. Here's the trailer...



- Bill

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Stand Up For Yourself!

British Government Public Service Message on Standing Up For Yourself:



Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Unlikeable Leads and BAD SANTA.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Togo's sandwich - eaten while writing.
Pages 7.5 pages on the Country Western Thriller - in the homestretch!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Drag Me To Hell Poster - Is She Diggin' It?

Two great pieces in Patrick Goldstein's LA Times Blog on movie posters.

First he looks at the poster for DRAG ME TO HELL and wonders if that is a look of ecstacy... and what does that mean?
Drag Me To The Bedroom?














And then he looks at some other cool posters from the past.
Great Movie Posters.


Chinatown - Buy it!













I have a copy of the CHINATOWN poster, and my super 8mm feature had a great poster by mt friend Brenda that was modeled after it. For me, the modern practice of just throwing a bunch of star's faces around the film title isa terrible idea. A movie poster needs to show us what the movie is going to be - like DRAG ME and CHINATOWN and JAWS and many others that give us the story and the tone for the movie that we will see. CHINATOWN was at the height of Jack Nicholson's stardom, yet it's not all about Jack... it's his character and the woman who haunts him.


posters - Buy it!











- Bill

Monday, June 01, 2009

When To Be A Dick?

I am a nice guy... and that probably hurts me in this business more than helps.

Since the statute of limitations on this one has probably expired by now, I can probably talk about it without getting kicked out of Hollywood... or being labeled “a dick”. Someone I’ve worked with before was looking for a screenwriter for a project and gave me a call. There was pay - this was a real guy who made real movies. The first thing he said at the meeting was that he really wanted to work with me, but this project was not financed by a foreign sales deal or home video deal - he needed the script and cast to get those deals. He had money - just not much. The deal would be back-loaded with minimum up front and the rest when the movie starts shooting. I don’t want to be a dick, so I say that’s okay. I mean, you don’t want to lose the job before you’ve even got it, right? I don’t want to be “difficult”.

For some reason, writers get labeled as “difficult” in the film business. No matter how many actors throw tantrums on set and scream at cinematographers, no mater how many directors threaten to quit the film unless they get their way; it’s *writers* who are known throughout the biz as difficult. I have no idea what we ever did to piss them off - I don’t think we deserve the reputation. Yes, some writers are snippy and fight script changes, but to get anywhere in this business you have to be “easy to work with” which is synonymous with being a typing monkey. I think the reason why writers end up being the ones who are “difficult” is that we know how to debate a story note and win - and that makes us a problem. If we have the ability to logically show the producer that his stupid idea is a stupid idea, we are people to be feared... and therefore dismissed. Dismissed as in fired, and bring in the typing monkey.

Now part of this is the fine art of diplomacy - if a writer wants to have a career they need to find the way to make the producer think that the writer’s better idea is their (producer's) idea. But there is a period early in the deal where anything you say as a writer is “being difficult” so you are best off waiting for that perfect moment to slip something in. You don’t want to start out defensive because then they either won’t buy your script or won’t hire you.

My problem is that I can never figure out when is the best time to stand up for my script and how tall I should stand.

Every time you are dealing with another person (like a producer or director or star) you will be dealing with someone who has a different idea of what the story should be. But if you start out fighting for your version, you are a pain in the butt. Mostly, because when you are starting out the differences are usually pretty small. In this case the producer was funding the first draft out of pocket and had specific needs for the screenplay. Not uncommon - most of the time when I pitch ideas it’s because the producer has Michael Dudkioff, a bunch of tank footage, and a facilities deal in Cosa Rica... how can I turn those elements into a story? So I come up with 5 stories using those elements and the producer picks one and I write up a treatment and/or screenplay. Early on, there are fewer details so fewer places where we see things differently. And big differences get hammered out before I go to script.

Often in the early stages I will go along with big changes that I may not completely agree with because I haven’t gone to script, yet, so the story is still pliable. Most of the changes in the early stages are things I can make work when we get to script... though sometimes the producer notes at this stage take a great original idea and make it less original. For whatever reason most notes seem to sand down the rough edges and make the story conform - which is usually a mistake. The reason why we like a movie is that it is different and original - but not so original that it’s hard to understand or relate to. Even though I might want to argue early on against these changes, and can probably prove that the producer’s changes will *cost* the producer ticket sales; I figure there’s a survival of the fittest thing going on here and the producer will note himself out of business eventually by making bland crappy films. I’m just an employee, here.

One of the things that I frequently don’t understand are notes that remove the high concept from the script and turn it into more of the same crap. It’s as if these producers are self destructive and *want* to fail. I always try to talk them out of those notes, even if it is early in the game and I may get labeled “difficult”.

But usually early on I am Mr. Cooperation. If the producer wants to put a donkey in the script because donkeys are always funny, I find the way to make the donkey an asset. I am the Beatles’ Paperback Writer. I save all of my “difficult” stuff for later in the game, when it is too late to fire me without paying me a bunch of money. I am afraid that this may be a problem, because later in the game when I do begin to argue against stupid notes, it seems to come out of the blue. I’m like one of those nice polite boys who suddenly are exposed as serial killers with a basement full of human elbows.

On this project, because it was the producer’s money, I was Mr. Cooperation and probably a little Mr. Kiss Your Butt. I didn’t want to argue over any of the small story stuff, because it was his money. Not some studio’s money and not some development fund money. He was paying for this script himself. You have to respect that.

By the way, much like Underdog, I also try to be humble and loveable. I figure with IMDB and every other resource a producer has, they should know who I am when I walk in the door. I know who they are. But I’ve had many cases where the producer never did a basic IMDB search on me, and thinks I just drove into town from the dustbowl with all of my belongings on the back of my truck because I heard there was good work out here in California as a screenwriter. On one project, maybe three meetings in, I brought a copy of CRASH DIVE and asked if I could pop it in the office VHS player (that dates the story) - and when the producer saw my name in the credits during a submarine diving into the Atlantic, his jaw dropped open like a cartoon character’s and he said, “You wrote this movie?” “Yes. It was an HBO World Premiere and it aired on March 28, 1997. It was an original script.” The producer had no idea I’d ever had a script made, let alone one that was about a million times bigger in scope than his cruddy little project. Guess what? I was “let go” from that project, probably because I had made the producer look like an idiot. Producers tend not to like that. Undermines their authority. So I no longer talk about my past credits - I just hope the producer has looked me up before the meeting.

That was not the case with this project.

I had worked with this producer before, early in my career... and for some reason he thought I had been frozen in carbonite since then. He had no idea I continued to sell scripts that were made into movies and that those movies may not have gotten any better but at least they have become more expensive. As it was, I was writing this script for this guy at a rate that I had not been paid in over a decade... actually probably 10 years. I liked the guy, it was his personal money, I was doing him a favor.

Now, here is the problem with doing people favors - if *they* don’t know it, it’s not a favor. My mom would tell me that is just plain wrong - you don’t announce to people that you are doing them a favor, you just do it. It’s about being a good person, not scoring points. But my mom doesn’t live in Hollywood, where it is all about what Seinfeld called “hand”. As in, who has the upper hand. So the producer has no idea that I have written other things over the past 10 years and has no idea what I was paid for them. No idea what my current “quote” (pay rate) is. He may even think that he’s doing me a favor by giving me a job. At the time, I could have easily turned down this job - I’d just banked a check on another job where I was paid my quote.

There were some notes on the first draft, including one that was a major problem. I calmly and reasonably discussed the notes with the producer, explained why I thought the one note was an issue - and he disagreed and wanted me to do it anyway. So I made that change and the other minor changes and turned in the second draft and we were supposed to go right into preproduction and cast the film and then crew up and make the sucker...

But something went wrong.

The producer gave the script to an actor - not a star, but a friend of the producer's who would be playing a minor role in the film... and this actor tore the script apart. You see, his role was all wrong, and the story was all wrong. The story should be more about *his* character, and his character should be more the kind of role this actor wanted to play, and...

Well, you might think that the producer would tell this actor to go to hell, but that’s not usually what happens. Instead, the producer regurgitated the actor’s notes at our next meeting and wanted the script completely changed to fit what this actor wanted. Oh, and I should mention that a couple of the actor’s notes were “script killers”. You know how the Death Star in STAR WARS is designed to kill a planet? Well, there are some notes that do the same thing with a screenplay. Seems like just a small thing, but it will cause a story implosion that will destroy Alderon. Why can’t the hero and villain put aside their differences at the end of Act 1 and be friends? Why can’t all of the characters act the same? Why does the hero have to have any emotional problem... or even any emotions? Why can’t the girl *instantly* be in love with the hero instead of having her not like him and grow to love him? I’ve heard those, variations on those, and a few dozen others over the years - each one will kill a script. They rob the script of drama and conflict and character... and turn it into mush. I have actually had a producer ask me why there needs to be a *conflict*? WTF? So when a couple of the notes were script killers, I debated them with the producer and became “difficult”.

Now, if you know me, you know I am a calm and reserved person. I don’t raise my voice and I don’t even argue unless someone is being incredibly stupid. Even then I am reasonable. Unfortunately, that often backfires. When you are the calm and reasonable one, the other guy often goes batshit crazy and loses their temper. So my calm discussion of why these notes would not work did not end well. I hate when people scream at me.

So this project was shelved those many years ago - one more script I wrote that I do not own or control. The producer is out his front money, I am out my back end money; and the film will never get made.

And I wonder if I had been a dick earlier - if I had put my foot down and stood up to full height and growled like a bear when the first silly notes were given to me (instead of working hard to make them work), would the producer have treated me differently later on? I’m sure one of the issues was that a character actor he knew had given him these notes - and compared that character actor’s knowledge of how a script works to the frozen in carbonite version of Bill he thought he was dealing with... hey, the over the hill character actor is the expert! I am just some writer he worked with on a low budget project 10 years ago. If I’d been a dick sooner, maybe he would have seen the character actor’s notes as what they were - a grab for more screen time at the expense of the film. Maybe he wouldn’t have treated me like some hack and realized that since we had last worked together I had written many movies with much bigger budgets (that still ended up crap, but that’s not my fault).

One of the interesting things about working in low budget and direct to video stuff is that the producers have no idea that this spec script you are offering them just got you a dozen studio meetings. I had a conversation with a fellow writer once about this - the low budget guys think everyone they talk to is at their level. They never even consider that some of the writers they are dealing with are slumming for cash or actual scripts on the screen. They read a script that got you meetings all over town and think it’s the same as some script the office boy wrote on his coffee breaks. It’s all just 110 pages of typing - the office boy’s script and your script are exactly the same.

Several times I’ve had scripts that got me meetings all over town, and maybe were even once optioned by some studio based producer, end up landing at some low budget place that was paying real money and would be actually making the script by the end of the year. A bird in the hand - I’d make the deal.... and then the low budget producer would come up with notes that removed everything from the script the studio guys liked. Character. Originality. Drama. Good dialogue. (I have a friend who once got a note to change all of the dialogue into cliches, because people understand cliches...) It was as if they were cutting the script down to their level. Instead of making a low budget film that was so good it might change the producer’s career, they’d turn it into the same old crap they’d been making in the past. Hey, I got paid, the film got made... and I’m bitching about it. I always hope the next time will be different...

But that script that opened studio doors is just a bunch of typing to these guys. Would it be better if I pulled some kind of snooty attitude right up front? If I really let them know that this script wasn’t interchangeable with the office boy's script? That, you know, the words that were typed were better words? Words put in a better order than that thing the office boy did on his coffee breaks? Or would that just make me “difficult”?

So the end result - a script that is forever shelved because I didn't know when to be a dick.

I’m never going to figure this business out. When is the best time to be a dick? Up front when they can easily fire you? Or later on, when both you and they are dug in too deep? Or should I just *always* be a dick?

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Single Protagonist Theory and Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Bar menu at Daily Grill - the little meatloaf burgers were great.

Movies: I've seen UP (excellent) and plan to see DRAG ME TO HELL tonight... reviews to come.
DVDs: Saw TIME CRIMES - absolutely great film! Spanish. Guy keeps going back in time to fix his life, and just keeps makin things worse.

Sorry! Another attack on the UK via Sky's Movies 4 Men Network...

M4M2: 6/1 - 8:20 - 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.

M4M: 6/3 - 17:30 - 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.

My apologies to everyone in the UK.

- Bill
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