Monday, August 31, 2009

Recharging The Batteries

After my vacation, I needed a vacation.

It’s been a busy couple of months. I took a 2 week vacation in July for my birthday in Las Vegas - some celebration with friends and the rest writing by day and being in Vegas by night... whatever money you bring to Vegas, stays in Vegas. After that I zipped back to Los Angeles for about a week, mailed some orders and searched my mailbox for the visa forms for China that were supposed to have been sent on June 24th - stressed over that for a while. Then zipped up to the Bay Area for a class reunion and to help my parents with a manual labor project at their house... oh how I just love doing heavy lifting! When I returned to Los Angeles... the China visa forms had *just* arrived (I had a friend checking my mail for them while I was away). Now I’m worried that the visa forms won’t make it through the Chinese government bureaucracy in time for me to teach my class. Oh, and I have to prep my London class right now - I’m hopping a plane in a few weeks for that non-stop orgy of film that is being on an international film fest jury... and then teach my class the day after closing ceremonies. Oh, then I fly back to Los Angeles for a week, and then hop a plane for Hong Kong (provided my Visa gets back to me in time) and do a class for the Hong Kong Film Academy. Now, somewhere in here I have some meetings on projects, including one on the big remake project - which seems as if it is going to get a major rewrite... which I will have to do in between all of this stuff because the sooner that rewrite gets done the sooner that project can happen and the sooner there will be a large payday for Bill.

So, it was important for me to have that time to relax and recharge my batteries.

Only, they didn’t seem to get fully charged and I don’t think they’re holding a charge like they used to.

There are all kinds of reasons for that - I’m sure age is a factor. When I was in my 20s I had all kinds of energy to do all kinds of things and didn’t seem to need much sleep. Now, well, I need to sleep. And I can’t go drinking every night and get up to go to work in the morning and take classes and make films and write scripts and... well, I can barely do any of that stuff now, even with 8 hours of sleep every night. Doing that manual labor, working on my parent’s house, just wiped me out every day. Sure, part of it was due to it being over 100' in Concord most of the time - but I just can’t do a day of hard work and then write a bunch of pages like I used to. I can either do the work or the pages, but not both. I’ve become a wimp.

I think another factor is burn out. When you first start writing there’s an excitement about it, and that elusive goal keeps you working harder and harder. But once you’ve achieved that goal and realized it ain’t everything you imagined... well, it’s just not as exciting anymore. My almost 20 year career has been frustrating. I put in a lot of work, and most of it leads to a dead end. I still do not understand why I don’t have an agent or manager - and why it’s easier for me to get a meeting on a studio lot than get an agent to read a script. What’s up with that? Meanwhile this guy who my friends and I think is the worst writer we have ever read (with the best networking skills) has just landed another assignment - and has an agent - and we all wonder how long this emperor will go before it is discovered he has no clothes. That assignment could have been mine or yours or any of my friend’s who actually can write, but this biz often makes no sense. These things slowly chip away at my energy

And then there are those little things in life that just seem to sap the energy from you... like a little wire causing a short that drains your battery over a period of time. When I began having problems with my laptop just before my high school reunion, someone online (I think Cathy) asked me how long I’ve had it... I couldn’t remember. Now I know that it was almost 3 years. Well, several months ago the battery stopped holding a charge - so two and a half hours of outdoor in the park writing time shrunk to 15 minutes. Hey, I can’t just ride my bike to the park and write anymore. Pisser. Now, somewhere along in there I wore the letters off the keys, and actually wore a crater in the shift key and a couple of others. I probably should have replaced the thing then, but it still had over 40g on the hard drive completely empty. The entire “D” drive was untouched! So I bought some colorful stick on letters... and my laptop looked festive! I think some computer company should offer colorful letters as an option. The laptop was fine after that, I just had to replace the letters every couple of weeks. Then, in Vegas, the whole H key decided to escape. Okay, time to replace the laptop... but it didn’t happen in that post-Vegas week, and while I was in the Bay Area for my reunion, the laptop just broke down. It began freezing up. Hey, I can make it through a couple of weeks like this and replace it when I get back to LA, right? Well, after a week of losing work because the damned thing froze up when I was almost finished with something but had not saved it, I realized I’d have to replace the laptop away from home... which lead to another week of pulling out my hair while I was trying to get info from the now almost dead laptop onto the new laptop... but every time I plugged in the migration cable the old laptop would crash. This was going on while I was half-asleep from doing manual labor at my parent’s house... which added to the frustration. Of course, eventually most of it was solved and I now have a new laptop that will probably need to be replaced in 2 years when it still has half of its hard drive untouched. But, as you folks reading this know, when something goes wrong with your computer, it’s a major thing. That computer is *my life*. That seemed to drain any energy I’d managed to save up over my 2 week vacation...

And I didn’t get much done at all while I was in the Bay Area... which means I have to get all of that stuff done now, plus the stuff that’s scheduled to do now, plus the rewrite in the script that was not on the schedule, plus some last minute stuff for the Film Fest, plus...

So I already seem to need another vacation. The batteries seem to take longer to charge and don’t seem to hold a charge as well...

- Bill

My continued attack on UK television's M4M2:
9/3 - 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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tarantino's Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns

Now that Tarantino's BASTERDS has blown up the box office, it seems like a good idea to look at his favorite Spaghetti Westerns... I'm sure you'd read my article on BASTERDS in Script Magazine and have seen the movie and maybe even seen the Italian film with the same title in order to compare. So what else is there left to do but look at his favorite Italian cowboy films?

Tarantino’s Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns.




1. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly




2. For a Few Dollars more




3. Django




4. The Mercenary / A Professional Gun




5. Once Upon a Time in the West




6. A Fistful of Dollars




7. Day of Anger




8. Death Rides a Horse




9. Navajo Joe




10. The Return of Ringo




11. The Big Gundown




12. A Pistol for Ringo




13. The Dirty Outlaws




14. The Great Silence




15. The Grand Duel




16. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead




17. Tepepa




18. The Ugly Ones




19. Django, Prepare a Coffin




20. Machine Gun Killers





Click on the DVD box for more information on the movies. The score for THE BIG GUNDOWN is one of my favorites, and the Django films are a lot of fun. One thing about all of these films is you start to wonder if Lee Van Cleef just moved to Italy and got rich - he ends up being in so many of these movies it's crazy.

Somewhere, there is a land where men do not kill each other. Somewhere, there is a land where...

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!
Blue Books are back!
- Sweet 17 Bonus - a Joe Eszterhas book!


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Symbolic Dialogue (and comedy) and 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS.
Yesterday's Dinner: Something at Mel's Diner.
Movies: I've seen the genius of GI JOE and will soon comment on that.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Class Reunion

A week ago I went to a High School Class Reunion - a picnic in a park in my hometown. When the classmate organizing it first sent me an e-mail, I got kind of nostalgic, and spent a couple of days watching the openings of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid... you know, the HAWAII 5-0 theme still rocks. I’m sure part of the nostalgia thing was that I also had a birthday coming up - and it would be birthday and class reunion almost back-to-back. Now that both are in the past, it’s time for me to start thinking about the future again... and get back to work.

Oh, but that class reunion...

I attended my 10 year class reunion, but none of the others. Because I was still living and working in my home town, the 10 year wasn’t a big deal. I saw many people from high school in the grocery store or where they worked. And people hadn’t really changed that much - everyone was still on their first spouse. Some people had kids... but some people had kids (or were pregnant) their senior year of high school. The one person I most wanted to see at my 10 year was my friend Daryl, who got into all kinds of mischief with me (and Todd, and others) in high school. We pulled all kinds of pranks and found new ways to rebel against the world - we commandeered room 312 and took it as our student lounge. This involved changing the locks on the door. We organized the pot smoking kids to sit on the roof over the faculty lounge and blow smoke into their air vent. Because back in those old days you needed a hall pass to be anywhere on campus when class was in session, we, um, found the spare time stamp machine and the box of hall passes and created our own. I’m sure the statute of limitations applies to all of these crimes, now... or maybe I’ll be blogging from jail for a while.

Most of our pranks were just small every-day things - pushing someone’s car across the parking lot to another space and then trying to convince them that they had parked it there, putting a notice in the faculty lounge to bring cookies or cupcakes for everyone in your 3rd period class (for some reason the teachers who fell for this and brought cupcakes for the class were never *my* teachers or Daryl’s teachers or Todd’s teachers). The strangest prank we did - and it was ongoing - was to *dress* the statue in the school library. The old librarian had this statue of - some Greek dude, I forget who, now - and it was he wanted everyone to respect the statue... which meant we had to come up with some prank to disrespect it. So, once or twice a month we would create a diversion to keep the old librarian occupied as we dressed the statue in clothes we bought from Goodwill. That old Greek dude was in drag half the time, sometimes in School Colors before a big football game, but always wearing something weird. At first the old librarian would freak out and remove the clothes, screaming at anyone in the library about the sacrilege... but the next day we’d get the statue dressed again, and eventually the old librarian just gave up. But he still ranted it all the time and eventually quit - so they hired a cool new librarian, Dot Caveny, who like the statue dressed in strange clothes. We continued dressing the statue until we graduated, and then some other kids took over. Besides coming up with many of these pranks, I was never without a special notebook where I was writing a fictionalized version of our antics as a novel. I still have all of those notebooks in storage somewhere.

When Daryl was a no-show at the 10 year reunion, we joked that he was probably either on the road to making his first million or in prison for conning a millionaire. Every year when I drive back to my hometown from Los Angeles, I go to many of my old haunts and used to bump into Dot Caveny at TR’s Bar & Grill in Concord. A bunch of teachers used to hang out there after work, and she was in that group. One year I drove up just to go to her birthday party there. We would talk of the old days, and debate whether Daryl had made his first billion by now or was up for parole. Had to be one of the two - he was too intelligent and too clever to be working some boring normal job. Well, TR’s closed - it’s now a pizza joint - and I haven’t seen Dot in years. I hope she’s okay.

Oh, but that class reunion...

I haven’t seen Daryl since graduation, and he was supposed to attend this reunion. Which meant, I had to be there.

And all of us are going to be, you know, old.

Well, here’s what I learned from going to this reunion - people age at different rates. These people are all the same age as I am (give-or-take) yet some looked and acted old and others were still full of energy and could have passed for at least a decade younger than they were. The hot busty high school cheerleader? Still pretty hot! I imagine if you removed her bra at this point (something I fantasized about often while in high school), they’d hit the floor and bounce, but she still looked great - and was flirty and the same firecracker she was many years ago. The school stud - still on the prowl. He was hitting on every woman there... and he looked great. Probably some Just For Men products involved, though. One thing that’s funny - people still hung out with their old cliques (leaving the braniac social misfits to talk amongst ourselves for much of the time). Another thing that was interesting was that most of the guys have jobs where they do some form of manual labor for a living - though at this point they usually supervise others doing the labor. Our high school seemed to produce people who do remodels or put in pools and jacuzzis or repair cars. Not a lot of computer programmers or dot-com millionaires. Bill Gates did not go to my high school.

As the reunion progressed, we realized we were all waiting for Daryl’s entrance. Would he drive up in a limousine from his LearJet which landed at Buchanan Field? Would a prison van pull up and release him, in shackles, to attend the reunion but keep him from wandering any further than his chains allowed? Would he zoom in wearing a jet pack? Would he show up with Lindsey Lohan on one arm and a champagne glass in hand? What if he’d had full identity changing plastic surgery and we didn’t recognize him? It was difficult enough to recognize some of the people at the reunion, just because they looked, you know, old.

As we waited for Daryl to show, we swapped stories about him. One of the gals talked about how he was her lab partner, and kept breaking beakers and petri dishes... and *she* had to go get the replacements so that he wouldn’t get in even more trouble. I told about the time Daryl “borrowed” his dad’s prized Cadillac and we swiped some little flags from the Veteran’s Graveyard and taped them to the front and rear of the Caddy, and “motorcaded” through town, trying to see how many cars would move to the side of the road to let us pass by. Everyone had a great story about the legendary Daryl...

But as the sun began to set and the reunion picnic broke up, Daryl still had not arrived. He was either buying the Oakland As as an investment, or they wouldn’t release him from that Federal Prison because they needed him to play tennis against Bernie Madhof's Federal Prison’s tennis team. Whatever the reason, we all left having not seen him... but still having experienced the fun he had brought into our lives many years ago. He was a real character - and maybe it’s better that we didn’t get to see the 9-5 married-with-two-kids version that he may have become. Daryl is a legend who will live on in all of our memories, even when the hot cheerleader starts to look like an apple doll.

I wish I could *create* a character than interesting and dynamic and memorable.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!
Blue Books are back!
- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: What's your story? and the mess that is DREAMCATCHER.
Movies: Though I haven't seen many movies, I have seen DISTRICT 9, and tomorrow I'll share my thoughts on it.


Meanwhile, films to avoid on UK's M4M2 Channel...

8/25 - 15:30 - 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.

8/28 - 14:15 - 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.

8/29 - 18:30 - 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.

I am so sorry.

- Bill

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sorry, no Fridays With Hitchcock This Week!

I'm tired and was busy doing other things... but you can scroll down and find ROPE and a bunch of others!

- Bill

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quentin Tarantino's Early Muppet Movies

Most people don't know that before Tarantino directed most of the films we know of... in fact, before he even directed his *first* film, MY BEST FRIEND'S BIRTHDAY, he worked extensively with the Muppets. Here are some trailers for those early films, to prepare you for KILL HITLER VOLUME 1... I mean, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS...



And, of course...



The thing about Tarantino - he pushes everything to the limit so that you *remember* his work, his dialogue, his characters. That's a lesson we can apply to our scripts - don't wimp out, don't pull punches.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale! Stock market is going up, buy now!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Story Vs Character and BANK JOB.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Whatever my mom's making for dinner.

And, I'm sorry to everyone in the UK again. This is one big Kharma Debt...
M4M2 - 8/14 - 09:00 - 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.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Spin

I wish I could say I read every one of those blogs over there –> every day. Some get read almost every day, some I forget about then go over and catch up on, some of those bloggers post so infrequently I’ll check back after a month a find only one new post (some - no new posts!), and some... well, I hardly ever read. Sorry if that is yours.

When I check my blog hits (almost every day) I like to check out where people came from - what website they were on immediately before coming here. Usually people come from my website or a link I’ve placed somewhere or some other screenwriting or filmmaking website. Most people probably do what I do - I kind of cycle through the websites I regularly read to see if there’s anything new and exciting. Of course, a few of you come here directly from a graphic gay porn site - I still am not sure whether my website is popular in the gay world for some reason, if many gay people are interested in writing screenplays, or if it’s just some of you screwing around with me because you know I check out where my readers come from. You may owe an apology to that little girl and her mom who were sitting behind me in Starbucks last week. That kid may grow up to think all guys can do that without needing immediate medical attention.

So, every once in a while I trace a hit back to some blog I’m unfamiliar with - usually in the film or screenwriting world, but sometimes other types of blogs. And if they look interesting, I read them. If I liked it, I may read it a few more times... and if it’s always interesting I may add it to the list. When I found the homicide blog, I kept reading it and thought it might also be of interest to some of you, so it went on the list. But there are other blogs that never make the list... because they are boring.

I recently read a blog that was film reviews that didn’t make the cut. Here’s why - instead of really digging into the films, he would say whether he liked the film or not and then gave a practically scene-by-scene summary of the movie. No play in the summary was a critique or details on why he liked or disliked this scene - it was just the story. And, told in the blandest possible way. Kind of a book report. This happened then this happened then this happened. I actually read 3 entries to see if maybe this guy was just having a bad day, but *all* of the “reviews” were like that. “I liked HANGOVER. These four guys have a bachelor party in Las Vegas...” and then what happened in the movie told in the most unemotional way possible. This guy’s reviews could make a comedy seem like an episode of DRAGNET.

Another blog that didn’t make the cut was by a woman who worked for an ad agency, who told what happened at the office, Now, I’ve watched THE OFFICE and seen OFFICE SPACE and watched a couple of episodes of MAD MEN and read all of Ernest Lehman’s short stories and probably expected to read a sarcastic blog about working in an office... or maybe an expose of the cut throat business world, or maybe some rants about how stupid fellow employees are or corporate politics are. Instead, this blog was more DRAGNET - her boss wanted the Soams File on is desk by 3:30 so that he could prep for his 4:00 meeting but Gary wasn’t finished with his report, so the file wasn’t ready until after 4:00 and... It was like reading the diary or a boring person. A robot could have written this blog! Maybe a robot *did* write the blog... or a pod person.

Another blog kind of had the opposite problem, though really it’s the same problem. This guy’s blog was all this guy’s opinions on the way the film business is run. A complete angry rant (I read a couple) about how he could run the business so much better. The problem here was that it was kind of this guy’s propoganda - his beliefs on how Hollywood should be - but if you read two blog entries, you’ve read them all. Hey, a robot or pod person could have written *this* blog, too. Just programmed to drone on and on about what was wrong with Hollywood in a way that was almost impersonal.

Bland. Uninteresting. Not entertaining.

It’s life as an office worker... but without a “spin”, without a “take”. Just the life, not a way of looking at that life.

Pulp novelist John D. MacDonald said if you gave the same news story to 10 different writers you’d end up getting 10 different stories. Because each writer would find a different way of telling the story, and find a different way of looking at the story, and find different parts of the story that appealed to them. A writer takes reality and runs it through their unique filter, and it comes out unique.

I once checked into a hotel, and when I got to my room the message light was blinking on my phone. What? Seems the person who checked out never retrieved their message. Because I didn’t know that when I saw the blinking light, I listened to the voice mail... some personal stuff from some stranger’s life.

Okay - your character checks in, sees the blinking message light, plays the message... What is the message and what happens next?

Do you think we all came up with the same story from that jumping off point? I think if we each wrote a script with that as the opening scene, we’d have a bunch of different scripts in different genres, and no two would be the same. Sure, a handful of people might write rom-coms with that as the set up, but after that first scene they’d go in their separate directions.

Have you ever seen the movie MIRACLE MILE? Guy answers a pay phone, voice on the other end says...

Whether we are writing our blogs or writing our scripts, we have to give that reader a unique and entertaining experience. We aren’t just telling them what happens, we are doing it in an exciting and interesting and amusing way. We aren’t just writing a film review that tells you what happened, we want to give it our spin, our take. We want to leave our finger prints on the review so it doesn’t look like a robot wrote it. Maybe the review is funny. Maybe the reviews point out how out of touch Hollywood is with real life. Maybe it’s a Pauline Kael review all about how this movie made *you* feel while watching it - and the review tells us as much about the reviewer as the film. Maybe look at films from a scientific standpoint or a historical standpoint or a social standpoint... you have some *point* you are making in your reviews. It’s more than just telling us what happened - a robot could do that - you are adding a context.

And hopefully, you are trying to be entertaining in some way. Even if I am reading a book for research - for information - I would like to have that information given to me in a way that is a pleasant reading experience. Facts can be presented in a way that amazes the reader, amuses the reader. They are still the facts. You can also bore me to death with the exact same facts.

The most entertaining reviews are usually for bad movies - many of the TRANSFORMERS 2 reviews were incredibly funny. It’s much easier to pull off the gloves and say funny things about a bad movie that say something funny about CITIZEN KANE. Comedy comes from pain and suffering, and no, I haven’t seen the new Rob Schnider movie yet. But a good review can show me the beauty of a film I have never seen, or show me some aspect of a film that I hadn’t noticed at first.

Hey, I’ve had a few boring blog entries. There are times when I realize I need to post something and I write up some rant or something. But even when I’m writing a review of 4 FAST 4 FURIOUS, I start out trying to find a spin or a take on the film. Something that makes it *my* review, not a robot’s. Usually I find some way to use the film as a screenwriting lesson. What did this film do right or where did it go wrong... and how can we apply this to our scripts? Some of my blog entries that I like use small incidents to illustrate a larger point... or use humor to illustrate a larger point. I do wish I had more funny blog entries. Sometimes my blog entries are just information oriented. I’m sorry for the you tube fillers - if something makes me laugh or just amazes me with weirdness, I’ll post it as a filler. I’m guessing you could just look at the youtube filler posts and learn something about me - they aren’t just “this is a new movie trailer that I really don’t care about” posts. I don’t think a robot could have posted those.

What are you trying to say with this blog entry?
What makes this blog entry entertaining?
What makes this blog entry uniquely yours?

I’m sure by now you’ve realized this isn’t really about blog entries - it’s about your screenplays. Sure, it began with me reading a bunch of blogs that didn't make the cut to get listed over there -> but writing seems to be writing, whether it's blogs or screenplays.

You don’t want to write bland, book report screenplays that read like a robot wrote them. You want to infuse your scripts with your unique personality and viewpoint, and make them *entertaining*. Get *inside* the story instead of telling it from the outside. Find the most interesting angle for the story. But, you know, if those three bloggers read it and learned something, I might try their blogs again and might even put them over there on the list.

- Bill

And once again, my sincere apologies to everyone in the UK who might accidentally channel surf past M4M2 and see...

8/6 - 19:10 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

8/8 - 15:40 - 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.

8/9 - 10:20 - 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.

- Bill

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Rest In Peace - Blake Snyder

Screenwriter and screenwriting teacher Blake Snyder has passed away. His book SAVE THE CAT and his follow up books are used by many screenwriters, and were an inspiration to many. He offered advice, helped writers, and was one of the few professional writers who taught screenwriting and was really good at it.

- Bill


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