Wednesday, September 30, 2009

London 0: Arrival

Greetings from London! I am writing this (for the second time) in a Starbucks on Charring Cross Road - I am surrounded by bookstores! I’m in heaven! A few blocks away from me is the big Mystery Bookstore that I always go to - they often have books published in the UK that are out of print in the USA. Hey, I made it....

I hate traveling, but I love being in foreign countries. That may sound like a contradiction, but it’s the getting there part that I don’t like. People my height are not designed for airplanes... and a whole blog entry on that is just around the corner.

This day began at 6am on Tuesday in Los Angeles when my alarm clock went off. You know I *hate* mornings... so I didn’t fall asleep until just a couple of hours earlier. I always *try* to get to sleep early, but it never works. Part of it is probably excitement that I’m going to a film festival and part is fear that I’ve forgotten to pack something important. This year I’m doing those 5 (FIVE!) Free lunch hour classes, so I had to create material for them... did I remember to print and pack all of that stuff?

Also, this time it’s one thing after another - London, and when I return it’s Expo weekend! I’m not teaching classes, but I plan to hang out and bring some of the new CDs to sell. Then, two days after Expo, I hop a flight for Hong Kong... and when I come back from Hong Kong? American Film Market! So, on Monday I wasn’t just packing for one trip, I was also preparing for Expo and Hong Kong and AFM because there won’t be time to get ready for that stuff. So Monday I dumped a pile of AFM letters in the mail box. What did I forget?

6am, I shave and shower and put on this ugly shirt I wear on planes because if I spill anything on it, it will just blend in to the pattern. It’s UGLY! I throw the toiletries bag and the alarm clock in one of the bags... and my phone is ringing - the shuttle bus is outside my building. I drag my two bags out to the van, climb inside, and we do the slow rush hour drive on the 101 to the 405 to LAX. Over an hour later, I’m dragging my bags to the automated gizmo to check them. You know, it costs MONEY to check bags these days!

I wait at the gate, board the plane to JFK... and end up stuck folded into the window seat with my head tilted to the side because the plane body curves. It’s hell. You know those things at Disneyland that say “You Must Be This Tall To Ride The Matterhorn”? They need one of those at the airport - “If You Are Taller Than This You Will Not Fit In the Seat”. Anyway - hell for 5 hours to JFK...

Where the Delta Airlines terminal has one - ONE - departure/arrival monitor. I get off the plane and start looking all over for a monitor to see where the London plane is... and can’t find a damn monitor *anywhere*. Eventually I see a big crowd of people looking at something (and recognize these two cute British girls from my flight) and it’s the departure monitor. Telling us that our plane was in Terminal 4. Okay, how do you get there? No instructions. Eventually, someone found it and waved, and the rest of us ran over. There’s a shuttle bus (without seats) that drives all the way to the other side of the airport where Terminal 4 was. And the whole shuttle bus thing was completely disorganized. They announced that we’d need to show our passports to the TSA person before we could go down the long hallway to the shuttle... but there was no TSA person. So we waited and waited... and the bus left without us! Empty! They told us to just skip the TSA guy when the next bus came. We all rode - standing up - to Terminal 4, and found our gate an hour before the flight... and 30 minutes before boarding.

You know, they *sell* meals on airplanes, now. Nothing is free anymore.

And they set up the flights so the meal time is *between* your flights. They didn’t serve lunch on the flight to JFK... and it arrived at dinner hour, so they figure you eat at one of those restaurants that no one would ever go to on the outside world because the food sucks and costs you three times what similar good food would cost outside the airport. But, while the other people are shoving food in their mouths at warp speed, I’m standing in line to see if I can get my seat changed to a bulkhead or emergency exit. The woman tells me they need to reserve the bulkhead seats for babies - heck, babies don’t need that extra leg room, I do! She says if there is a seat available, she’ll call me before we board. Swell... I’m gonna be sardined to London.

But, moments before my group boards, she calls my name and gives me a bulkhead seat... in a row filled with moms and crying babies.

Well, I guess I asked for it.

But I did plan for that possibility and brought my big noise canceling head set, and cranked the music. I tried to sleep, but no dice. I can never sleep on planes. I was exhausted by this point, and had a couple of beers (free - but they charge you for the bad airline food, go figure). And I had a sleep mask thingie I got one of the times I flew Virgin (they give you a whole kit, complete with toothbrush and toothpaste and little socks and a mint), but it didn’t help me fall asleep. It did kind of block out the babies. I had also brought sleeping pills, but decided not to take them for fear I *still* wouldn’t sleep, but would end up groggy and out of it and so stupid I’d do something dumb.

We landed in London at 9am on Wednesday, and I drag myself through Passport Control to the luggage pick up. While all of us are standing there, waiting for luggage to come out the chute and rotate, the two cute British chicks are sitting on a bench taking it easy. I watch a hundred bags that are not mine go by... they are laughing at some joke. Eventually all of the bags are gone and the belt stops moving and neither of my two bags have come out. There are two women who are also wondering where their bags are. We all three go to the Lost Luggage Desk... where the two women find their bags. I do not find mine. Both of my bags, containing my clothes and class materials and an envelope filled with pound coins from the last time I was here - lost.

Well, I fill out a whole bunch of lost luggage forms, and wonder why they can’t just type in the code numbers into a computer and find my bags. In the airport luggage sorting belts, a computer reads the code on the luggage tag and sends it to the correct plane. So why can’t they tell me where my bags are? Well, for one thing, at the Delta Lost Luggage Desk they do not have a computer... they have paperwork.

One of the problems is that I do not remember the street address or phone number of my hotel - that sheet got printed out, and is in one of the lost pieces of luggage. I know the name of the hotel, and can tell the guy behind the desk how to walk there - you take the tube to Regent Square, walk on the street on the edge of the square with the Post Office behind you until you get to that street in the middle of the square, and walk towards the Mummy Museum... and it’s three quarters of the way down the street. But the Lost Luggage guy wanted to know how to contact me if he found my luggage, and wasn’t going to be taking the subway to Russell Square and wandering around looking for the hotel I described. I got their card and promised to call them with hotel specifics.

Took the tube to Russell Square and...

Anyway, got to the hotel and my room wasn’t ready, yet. The hotel called the Delta Lost Luggage Desk at Heathrow, gave them the phone number and street address.

Okay, tonight is opening night of the film festival. I only have the clothes on my back. I do not have a toothbrush. Oh, and it’s kinda sprinkley. You know, it’s London. In one of those lost suitcases I have a sports jacket and a raincoat. I also have all of my business cards. You see, a couple of years ago, I ended up talking to Paddy Considine for a minute at the opening night party and wished I had a business card. So this time I packed cards. I also packed clean dress shirts and clean underpants and clean socks. Now, I don’t have any of that stuff... and don’t have any of my class materials, either.

Now, in that fine pint on the Los Luggage Form it says that after 5 days, if they can’t find your bags, Delta will pay you $25 a day to buy clothes and supplies. You know how bad I’ll be smelling after 5 days? And, um, what the hell will $25 get you? And in London (not a cheap place to shop)? I’m screwed.

So, while waiting for my room to be ready, I go to that Boots on Tottencourt Road and buy toothpaste and toothbrush and deodorant and their version of Tums (also in a lost bag)... then wander down Oxford Street and find a sporting goods store going out of business and buy underpants and socks at a price that would shock you, and then go to this Starbucks and type this all up on Blogger and then lose wifi when I post it... gone forever! Pisses me off. I look at some T shirts on sale for what translates to $30 each - you read that right! Hell, I can get a T shirt for $2 on Hollywood Blvd (5 for $10). So I still don’t have a shirt...

But I went back to my hotel, room ready and beautiful - a balcony overlooking the street! A nice desk (where I type this up again so that I can return to Starbucks and post it without losing it) and a fireplace with a compfy chair and table in front of it. You know, it’s good to be a film fest juror! I showered and cleaned up and used the new toothbrush and gave the ugly shirt a rinse and ironed it and it looks okay... but not okay for 5 days.

And that’s when the hotel desk rang - Delta had just called, they have found my suitcases, they “didn’t make the flight”, and would deliver them to the hotel tomorrow morning. So it’s only tonight - and the big ritzy party - where I have to wear the ugly shirt and have no business cards nor jacket nor rain gear!

You know, I had to pay good money for them to lose my luggage.

- Bill

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Official Book Of My Plane Trip To London

Hopefully.

This book comes out Tuesday... I fly on Tuesday AM.


I need to find a book store that will slip me a copy before the official release date. So far, that is not the 3 Borders I went to and the Book Star on Ventura.

Should have tried Dark Delicacies... but it was too hot to ride to Burbank today. Maybe tomorrow, if I can get my surprise class written up.

CHILD OF FIRE by Harry Connolly...



“Child of Fire is excellent reading: a truly dark and sinister world, delicious tension and suspense, violence so gritty you'll get something in your eye just reading it, and a gorgeously flawed protagonist. Take this one to the checkout counter. Seriously.”—Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files

“Cinematic and vivid, with a provocative glimpse into a larger world. Where’s the next one?”—Terry Rossio, screenwriter, Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy

“Classic dark noir, fresh ideas, and good old-fashioned storytelling.”—John Levitt, author of Dog Days

“Redemption comes wrapped in a package of mystery and horror that hammers home the old saying ‘Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time’ . . . and even then you’d better check the yellow pages for one bad-ass exterminator first.”—Rob Thurman, author of Nightlife

“A fine novel with some genuinely creepy moments. I enjoyed it immensely and hope we’ll see more of Ray Lilly.”—Lawrence Watt-Evans, author of the Obsidian Chronicles

And all kinds of great reviews so far... but the main reason I'm trying to grab it for my long flight to London is that Harry is a friend of mine (met him on WordPlay), a Script Secrets reader, and a talented screenwriter who decided to switch frustrations and try to get a novel published... and ended up with Del Rey's big fall release and the first in a series. Del Rey shipped him to ComiCon and put him on a panel and had him sign autographs. So I not only want to see what clever/exciting/disturbing stuff he's come up with, I want to *buy* a copy of the damned book so that it can climb the best seller's list and Harry will become the new Stephen King and then I'll have one more person who won't return my calls.

So, congratulations to Harry!

CHILD OF FIRE at Amazon.

Be a real pisser if I don't get a copy before I leave... a 10 hour flight without the book I want to read!

- Bill

Screenwritng Classes On CD - Recession Sale! - $5 Off!

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example and it includes the new Thematic element!

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Something
Yesterday's Dinner: Panda Express - the sweet & spicey chicken breast.
Bicycle: To Arnold's copies, too hot to ride too far.
Pages: Never ending class prep!
Movies: SURROGATES... Blah. Mild spoilers... Big problems:

1) Concept is stupid. Okay, so everyone sits at home in their PJs while a robot drives their car to the office and *punches a time clock* and works their shift before the robot drives home... Um, why not just work online and cut out the middle-robot? Throughout the whole movie I kept wondering why you would go to the trouble and expense to have a robot drive anywhere.

2) What I learned from this movie: Having a serrious dramatic subplot in a movie about robots is okay... as long as it is never discussed. This is an action flick, when they had some dead serious conversation about their marriage or their dead kid, it just killed the momentum. Knowing he has a dead kid is enough. Knowing he and his wife are having problems is enough. Don't yap about it!

3) Um, they got the husband & wife characters mixed up. This story *can not work* if the wife digs robots and the husband doesn't much like them - both characters have nowhere to go, and that makles them boring and static. The husband has to think the robots are the greatest things in the world so that he can learn otherwise.

4) Ugly people - another concept flaw. Okay, the whole world has these sexy robots, while they are basically shut ins. Um, have you seen real people? When I'm shopping at K-Mart (the store of my people - white trash), not a single person in there is under 300 pounds (okay, except for the stick people). But the *concept* of this film is to eventually show us the people behind the sexy robots... and they are all hot actors & actresses! They put some dirt on Rosamund Pike, but she's still hot. All of the regular people look... GREAT! And, they have to - due to the concept. If the wife without her robot is some 400 pound ugly-as-hell woman, we will never want her to come out from behind the robot... But the plot requires us to see the real people and find them attractive. The concept kills itself!

5) The only actor in the world who can play crazy robot builders - James Cromwell (I ROBOT, and now this)

6) When you have a chance for Ving Rhames to tell Bruce Willis that we never talk about this again, ever... you're a fool not to take it. We expect something like that.

7) Needed more cool robot action scenes.

8) Had a couple of twists... and then a non-twist at the end where it needed a twist.

9) I just don't get beauty parlors for robots - that was a dumb idea.

10) You know, I miss Ah-nuld Sci-Fi movies like TOTAL RECALL...

- Bill

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Quick, he's in the hamster wheel getting away!

James Gunn had this on his blog today, and it is in bad taste (so it fit right in with his PG Porn) and some of you may hate me for reposting or admitting to laughing at this. Completely safe for work, yet... wrong.



Things like this seem to happen often on the news - one of the only things on TV that is live every day. Usually it's just the camera aimed at the wrong newscaster while ther other on is talking, or something like this but with just the wrong person's face or usually the wrong name caption.

But what if the hamster really did it? Later news broadcasts would have the police surrounding the hamster cage, and that "perp walk" from the police car to the jail with the hamster in cuffs, fur over his face to hide from news photog's flashbulbs, then the courtroom sketches of the hamster during the trial... what else?

***

And here's an interview with Robert Towne on the 35th anniversary of CHINATOWN Robert Towne.

Screenwritng Classes On CD - Recession Sale! - $5 Off!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Well Balanced Confusion - and MEMENTO vs. SYRIANA.
Yesterday's Dinner: Subway.
Bicycle: NoHo again - hardly a real ride.

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example and it includes the new Thematic element!

Ultimate Buddy Cop Movie

One who lives by the rules, One who lives to break the rules!



- Bill

Destroying your brain cells on UK's M4M2 TV...

9/25- 14:00 - 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.

9/29 - 10:30 - 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...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sign Up For My London or Hong Kong Class!

In the UK or Hong Kong? Want to attend my big 2 day class?

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example we will start by finding the million dollar high concept idea and then find the perfect story and characters for the idea. SIGN UP NOW! Seating is limited!

SCRIPT SECRETS: THE BIG IDEA is an INTENSIVE two day course - screenwriting stripped of the theoretical nonsense! This is the "classic class" - starting with finding that great film idea than explanding that idea into a full length screenplay. We'll spend all day Saturday and Sunday learning techniques to come up with great film ideas, improve your dialogue, description, story and screenwriting abilities! Plus a section on selling your script!

SCRIPT SECRETS - The big 2 day class is totally revamped for 2009 & 2010.

Now with The Thematic - the most powerful screenwriting tool I've ever created! A schematic using theme to flesh out your screenplay. Start with a story idea or a character, and it will take you step-by-step, finding the perfect supporting characters, amazing dramatic scenes, dialogue that works on more than one level, actions that show emotional conflict, and more. Thematic uses your story's theme to generate the other elements of the story, creating the template for a tightly focused character and theme based screenplay. This is not a machine or a formula, but a unique way to look at writing your screenplay.

For 2009 we'll be using the movie GHOST as our primary example, with clips from that film as well as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE MATRIX, AIRPLANE, THE BIG SLEEP and DILLINGER.

Interested in attending?
LONDON CLASS - SEATING *IS* LIMITED!

***HONG KONG***

SCRIPT SECRETS: HONG KONG - October 24 & 25, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example we will start by finding the million dollar high concept idea and then find the perfect story and characters for the idea. SIGN UP NOW! Seating is limited!

SCRIPT SECRETS: THE BIG IDEA is an INTENSIVE two day course - screenwriting stripped of the theoretical nonsense! This is the "classic class" - starting with finding that great film idea than explanding that idea into a full length screenplay. We'll spend all day Saturday and Sunday learning techniques to come up with great film ideas, improve your dialogue, description, story and screenwriting abilities! Plus a section on selling your script!

For 2009 we'll be using the movie GHOST as our primary example, with clips from that film as well as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE MATRIX, AIRPLANE, THE BIG SLEEP and DILLINGER.

Interested in attending? More Info:
HONG KONG CLASS - SEATING IS LIMITED!

Great for novelists, too - Check This Out.

- Bill

* London Class is run by Raindance Film Festival, I just teach it.
* Hong Kong Class run by the Hong Kong Film Academy, I just teach it.
They collect all monies, etc, I just teach it.

I keep my promises!

And here is what I promised in the last post...


I'm working like crazy on these classes I'm teaching in London and Hong Kong, and also trying to finish the sound edits on some more classes on CD. STRUCTURAL FREAKS is finished (and shipping), working on THEME & VOICE and NOIR & MYSTERY. Hope to have them all finished before I fly to London so that I can sell some when I'm at the festival. Have no idea if I'll get them done in time.

- Bill

Friday, September 18, 2009

Universal Isn't Buying Scripts Until Next Year

Variety reports that Universal is out of money. They will not be buying or spending any money to develop projects they have until next year - at least 3 and a half months from now!

Full Variety Article

Wow! What is everyone closes down early? Will this create a spec sales rush next year?

- Bill

Warning to TV viewers in the UK...

M4M - 9/19 - 11:50 - 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 - 9/19 - 15:15 - 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.

M4M - 9/20 - 10:05 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Extract - Show Me The Funny!

So, I’m a big fan of OFFICE SPACE and was one of the five people in America to buy a ticket for IDIOCRACY, and was really looking forward to seeing Mike Judge’s new film EXTRACT. Though they keep cycling through “interested stars” for my Top Secret Remake Project, the most recent name the producer said was Jason Bateman. Of course, Bateman would be the fourth or fifth star that cycled through the project - we started with Paul Rudd - and Bateman may have “cycled out” by now. But, I am suddenly Bateman’s biggest fan... well, I was actually a fan before. And Mila Kunis was just great in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, so this should be pretty good, right?
Well, I was also disappointed. Mildly amusing, but not *funny*.

It was an amusing story and had amusing situations and characters that should have been funny, but it seemed like someone went through the script just before shooting and cut out all of the punchlines and gags and anything else that might make you actually laugh. I know they do this with *my* scripts, but who the heck would do it to Mike Judge? The film made me smile, but I don't think I had a real laugh the entire time, except for when Ben Affleck was on screen.

I haven't read the script, but I wondered how the heck it got this far? Okay, people really like Mike Judge and want to work with him... but shouldn't someone have noticed the lack of, you know, funny stuff in the script? A comedy needs to be funny. When you see a comedy film in a cinema, with a bunch of people who are *not* laughing, something is wrong! My Friday Night Film Guys group was not laughing, and neither were the people sitting around us. In the cinema parking lot we all talked about how it just wasn't very funny... all of us were disappointed. We like Mike Judge. We want his films to be hits. But to do that, they have to be... funnier.

Movie opens with hot&cute Cindy (Kunis) the center of a salesman battle at a guitar store - every other customer in the place is being ignored so that these two guys can show her the most expensive electric guitar they sell. When she figures out some lame reason for them to go to the backroom at the same time, she splits with the guitar... selling it at a pawn shop for more than the going rate.

Bateman plays Joel, the owner of a factory that bottles extracts (like vanilla) used in cooking. He’s about to make it big, because his 2nd in command (J.K. Simmons - way too good for this nothing role) tells him that General Mills is interested in buying them for a huge chunk of money. Now, I realize that this is a comedy (or supposed to be), but this factory is filled with misfit idiots who would be fired from any actual factory - and end up making blue collar workers look like idiots.

Why is it that people who work for a living are always shown as being dumbshits in films? It’s bad enough that movies never actually show people who work for a living on film, movie characters always seems to be employed by big companies in new buildings where their job is to breeze through an office every once in a while and make that critical presentation the day after the wake up a member of the opposite sex after some magical thing happens. We never see people in manufacturing in films, we never see people who do construction or dig ditches or do anything that looks like actual work. I suspect this is because many of the folks in development have only worked in offices, and don’t even understand the concept of manual labor.

That’s the first thing that goes in most of my scripts - my working class heroes suddenly end up with an office job. And that reason they like to use - the audience doesn’t want to see people working in a warehouse, it’s not interesting - is BS. Where did Tom Hanks and John Candy work in SPLASH? But, in EXTRACT we get blue collar workers... who are complete idiots. Caricatures but not characters... and not funny. We have the swaggering Step (Clifton Collins), the two old bats who do nothing but gossip, the awful forklift driver who is in a band, and the Mexican guy who everyone thinks is stealing their stuff. Why couldn’t these characters be *competent* and funny? You know, I would have settled for just funny - but it’s like, once the exaggerated characters were created, Judge stopped there. No funny lines.

The sale to General Mills hits a snag when a chain reaction accident causes Step's testicles to be blasted off his body. Well, the reattach one of them. This sets off another chain reaction of incidents, that has Cindy take a job at the plant in order to get info on Step so that she encourage him to sue the company for millions (and then she will split with the cash) and Joel realizes his wife (Kristen Wiig) is probably never going to sleep with him again, so he decides to have an affair with Cindy... but when he drunkenly tells his stoner bar tender buddy Dean (Ben Affleck, who completely steals this movie just through his performance) that it would be easier for him to sleep with Cindy if he discovered that his wife was also having and affair, Dean comes up with a plan... They hire an idiot named Brad who thinks he's a gigolo (Dustin Milligan) to pretend to be a pool boy and seduce his wife.

Nice plan, but it backfires big time. Cindy hooks up with Step (who literally has no balls) instead of Joel (who just figuratively has no balls) - and gets Step to hire an obnoxious lawyer played by Gene Simmons (more Hollywood nepotism - both J.K. *and* Gene!) and sue Joel’s company for everything. And Brad the fake pool boy hooks up with Joel’s wife, having constant wild monkey sex with her all afternoon and then wants to be paid extra. The pool boy thing is one of the situations that seems to work even after being stripped of all of its jokes. You don’t laugh outloud, but it’s amusing enough to keep you interested. Most of the movie is just not amusing enough. You can see that the story seems like a comedy movie story - it's got some crazy loopy thing happening and all kinds of potentially funny situations... they just forgot to add the funny. It's as if they removed all of the jokes.

And, by "jokes" I don't mean some Henny Youngman joke. I mean anything funny. Clever lines, wordplay, comic misunderstandings, prat-falls, visual humor, etc. Funny stuff of any kind. The situations are there, but the funny stuff is not there.

I have read some scripts that were clever and funny in *description*, but nothing funny was in the part that showed up on screen (dialogue and actions). Writers who were tap-dancing. Funny prose writing, but not funny *screenwriting*. A screenplay is a sperm. It’s entire purpose is to swim upstream and fertilize an egg and become a movie. Yeah, scripts can also land you an assignment, but again - that assignment script is all about becoming a movie. So *anything* that gets in the way of that happening is making your script worthless and pointless and just a wank. There are a lot of wanker-writers who spill all of their jokes on the description and none of them make it to the screen. I’m over in the action & thriller world, and the same thing happens there - writers who leave the suspense on the page, or take that big moment... and leave it in the description. It’s in the prose, but not in the *action* or in the *dialogue*. It never makes it off the page!

I would think that if that were the case here, someone would have caught it before they gave Judge the check to make the movie. I'm sure Devos do what I do - and read past the tap dancing to see what makes it to the screen. Did you ever have that old game version of the TV show PASSWORD? They had these little envelopes with red tinted windows that you put the clue cards in. The clues were written in blue ink, the answers in red ink. So you could easily read the clues through the red window, but the answers were completely invisible. Well, I have one of those red windows when I read a screenplay. I see what can be put on screen and ignore the clever tap-dancing that some writer thinks will fool me. I know when I start to read a script filled with obvious tap-dancing, I raise the deflector shields and use my red filters to see what's gonna stick to the screen. At the end of the day, that's all that matters.

I think it’s strange that screenplays seem to be evolving from, well, screenplays, into something with writing that often more closely resembles a novel. All of the obvious tap dancing that would have shot down a screenplay when I started writing is now *expected*... even though it doesn’t stick to the screen, and forces readers to use those deflector shields and red filters to weed out the crap when they are reading the script. That must be a pile of work! I realize all of that tap-dancing is probably amusing to read, but a screenplay is a sperm - it’s job isn’t to amuse a reader, it’s to make a movie. If all of the funny stuff is just wank, the script may be a great funny read but a bland crappy movie. The only think that matters is what sticks to the screen.

Was the script to EXTRACT as blah as the movie, or filled with tap-dancing? Were there gags and jokes and humor that wasn’t just wank, but something that would make it all the way to the screen? Hard to imagine Judge The Director cutting out all of the jokes from Judge The Writer.

I felt the same way about IDIOCRACY - amusing situations, but a lack of actual laughs. Again, it seemed like they hired the joke removal service they use on all of my scripts. I'm a big fan of OFFICE SPACE, though, and even though that film was low-key, it had enough actual laughs to make it funny. That film had a bunch of funny situations and funny characters and funny gags - do you know how I often I use the term “flare”? I laughed outloud a bunch of times in OFFICE SPACE... which I did not do in EXTRACT. So, has Judge lost it? And who though a comedy without any really funny stuff was the script they should make?

I *did* laugh at Ben Affleck - who completely steals the movie. Someone should write another shallow stupid character like this for him to play - he's great at it. And the dopey pool boy guy committed to his role as if he were playing Hamlet - when he realizes he’s in love with Joel’s wife, it’s a great bit of cringe-comedy. But those are a couple of scenes in a 90 minute film. The rest is mildly amusing. You know, ADVENTURELAND had more laugh outloud moments... and it was a coming of age drama! By the way, Mike Judge the Director should have fired Mike Judge the Actor for giving a completely crappy performance - it’s strange enough that in all of the scenes where they introduce the crew, he’s never shown, and then suddenly becomes this critical character in the last half of the film, but he’s so over-the-top you cringe. Not comedy cringe, this-is-really-bad cringe.

What should have been a funny movie ends up mildly amusing. It will probably play much better on DVD because you can do something else while the movie is playing and if you only half-pay attention to it, it will seem more entertaining. In the cinema it just seemed bland most of the time. So, where did all of the funny stuff go?

Funny stuff - you really need it if you are writing a comedy.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale! - Save $5 by ordering today!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Theme and the point of your script - and WOLVERINE and X-MEN 3.
Yesterday's Dinner: Subway Ham & Swiss.
Bicycle: Just over to Coldwater and a Starbucks where nobody know my name.
Pages: Um, do these count? Well, not in my book. Nothing on 2ND SON.

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example and it includes the new Thematic element!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kate Beckinsale's Butt

Greetings to those of you who found out about the blog from Movie City News or Script Shadow... I swear, it's not all me bitching about idiot producers and films saved only by Kate Beckinsale's shower scenes (though most of the blog has been about those two subjects up until now).

On Fridays I usually take a Hitchcock film and find a screenwriting lesson in it, here is the index page for that: Fridays With Hitchcock Index.

A while back, after getting a bunch of questions about what an action scene looks like on the page, I did a blog entry that compared the car chase scene from BLACK THUNDER from script to screen: BLACK THUNDER car chase - the funny thing about BT is that it's already been remade!

Hey, I was on the red carpet for the FRIDAY THE 13th remake! Friday the 13th red carpet & after party.

I had the worst agent in all of Hollywood, once... My First Agent! Now I have no agent, no manager. People just read my scripts and pass them around, which is more or less how I get every single script job.

I did this three parter about low budget horror films made by people I know.
Trilogy Of Terror - Part 1
Trilogy Of Terror - Part 2
Trilogy Of Terror - Part 3

Screenwriting Expo and American Film Market are both coming up, and I always blog about each of them. Expo 2007 and AFM 2006 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Stay tuned for new adventures at both.

This is my favorite blog entry so far... Larry & The Entourage Table.

And every once in a while I warn about my movies being in TV, so that you can make sure to avoid them. But usually it's bitching about the business and perving over Kate Beckinsale. I mean, what else is there in life?

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Multiple Protagonists? - and YOU ME & DUPREE.
Yesterday's Dinner: Del Taco #6.

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

White Out... A Movie About Correction Fluid?

WHITEOUT... Screenplay by Jon & Erich Hoeber and Chad & Carey Hayes.

What? I mean, I kind of understand basing a movie on a toy, like GI JOE, but making a movie about office supplies? That’s crazy! Did Mike Nesmith’s mom really need the extra million from a film deal? (Pisser - I’m halfway finished with my new script, LIQUID PAPER: THE MOTION PICTURE, I hate when that happens!)

Of course, WHITEOUT isn’t based on that correction fluid stuff, it’s based on a comic book or graphic novel that I didn’t read because my parent’s banned comic books when I was a kid so I never really got into them. From the trailer, it looks like THE THING meets MY BLOODY VALENTINE, but the bad reviews made it sound like neither. They made it sound like a mystery... and I really love mystery films.

Many of my scripts that have ended up on screen began as mysteries. I say “began” because the first thing they always do is a “mysterectormy” - they remove the mystery part because they say it’s too clever for the audience, too much work for the audience to keep up with all of those clues and suspects and motives. I think the problems is - it’s too hard for *them* to keep up with the clues and suspects. On one of my films over a decade ago they just forgot to film the clues, so they had to get rid of the mystery part. One of my recent films, they cast nobodies in all of the suspect roles except one - the one who was the killer. When they showed this to a test audience, everyone knew right away who the killer was, even though the detective doesn’t figure it out until the end of Act 2. They thought because these other roles were not the villain, they were not important enough to spend the money on a name. In a meeting, I told them that the minute they cast Gary Busey as one of the suspects, the audience is going to know he’s the killer, even if they hired a bunch of actors at his level to play the other suspects. Well, the movies ended up sucking. That was one of those films where they told me they loved my script and wouldn’t change a word, and afterwards they pointed out that one word they *didn’t* change.

I love mystery films, and wish they made more of them, but I also don’t think that’s likely. A few years back they announced they were going to remake one of the greatest mystery films ever, THE LAST OF SHEILA... but they were going to get rid of the confusing mystery part and make it as a comedy.

So the mystery thing was a major plus for me... but WHITEOUT still ended up in the minus column.

Story is about the hard-as-nails US Marshal at the international outpost in Antarctica, Carrey Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) who is about to take her first vacation in years when (cliche) someone finds a dead dude out in the middle of nowhere. She and the outpost Doctor (Tom Skerritt) who’s also the coroner, investigate and find that the dead guy is a scientist collecting meteorites with a couple of other scientists at a facility out in the middle of nowhere. Kate snags a Pilot (Columbus Short) and flies all over the frozen wasteland looking for clues, but instead finding some crazy dude with an ice axe who keeps trying to kill her. Then, this guy who claims to be a United Nations Cop (Gabriel Macht) just shows up out of nowhere and insists this is *his* investigation, but she can tag along if she wants. Crazy dude with ice axe keeps attacking, and eventually Kate figures out who the bad guys are and captures them, but misses her vacation.

The movie opens with lengthy scene where an airplane full of Russians in the 1950s kill each other in mid air over... something... then the plane crashes in the snow. So when we cut to present day and Kate and Skerrit are talking about their upcoming vacations, we are already way ahead of the movie. In fact, we spend the first half of the film wondering when Kate’s going to find the plane... this is a basic story mistake, because it makes that first half of the film tedious, and makes Kate look like an idiot. Didn’t she see that opening scene? This movie is about stuff on a plane!

The dialogue is awful - trite, OTN (on the nose - obvious) lines, and often the characters *do* seem like they’re read the script, because they jump to some crazy conclusions that they had to know what happened next. There are also about 20 too many flashback scenes to Kate’s traumatic backstory... now a good tragic backstory should have something to do with the main story. Think of how in SIXTH SENSE Bruce Willis having that ex-patient of his shoot him and then kill himself impacts the current story of Bruce trying to help his current patient. But in WHITEOUT Kate’s backstory is some thing that does not impact the current story *except* if a certain character is the bad guy - making the flashbacks a dead giveaway! Oh, and we not only got all of these flashbacks of her past traumatic event, we had a scene where she *tells* the story to another character, so that we get all of those flashbacks *again*, *plus* her sitting there telling us what we are seeing in the flashbacks! And instead of each flashback giving us just a small piece and ending in a cliff-hanger, we basically get the same scenes again and again and again.

Oh, and everything gets flashbacks - even the opening scene! There’s a scene where we get most of the Russian guys shooting each other in the plane as flashbacks. A quarter of this film was made up of scenes we had already seen! I was half expecting each of the naked jogging guys in the first scene to have flashbacks to some traumatic incident in their past.

I went *expecting* AND THEN THERE WERE NONE meets THE THING - and that seems to be the *concept*, but the execution just sucked. Um, where were the clues? Where was the mystery? Because there were no real clues and no real suspects, I knew who the bad guys were about 5 minutes in because they were the only characters to choose from. You will know who the killer is and who the mastermind is right away - there are practically big arrows hanging over them that say “Guilty”. That makes the mystery part completely pointless... we figured out, so why can’t Kate? Is she stupid? Oh, and what’s the point of sitting through the rest of the film and all of those endless flashbacks of her traumatic backstory?

This script needed a rewrite by someone who knows the mystery genre... or maybe Kevin Williamson, since he did a pretty good job with SCREAM.

The only mysteries in WHITEOUT were these fade out sequences that litter the film: Heroes are trapped somewhere, someone comes up with a possible way out, fade out, fade in, they are safe and warm somewhere - and we do not see the actual escape! WTF? It’s like having the boulder chasing after Indiana Jones, then cutting to Jones back at the University teaching class. Hey, we don’t need to *show* Indy escaping, we just need to know that he has a plan, right? I don’t know whether this was something one of the two sets of screenwriters of WHITEOUT came up with, or if it’s part of the comic book format. Either way, I felt ripped off.

A major problem throughout was characters doing things without motives or doing things that just made no sense (in service of some silly thing the plot required them to do).
I would think that living in a cramped room at an outpost thousands of miles from civilization with a hundred other people would make you crave privacy. Yet, throughout the film people just barge into people's rooms without knocking! That was so wrong it took me out of the movie a couple of times. Characters were not behaving as they should - and that makes the whole thing seem false and contrived... which it was. Characters need to act like people... and it’s often the simple things that trip them up. About the third of forth time someone just barges in to a room where the door was unlocked (once when a character is naked) you wonder why they don’t lock their damned doors! And nobody questions why these folks just barge in.

Not only was the dialogue just awful, so much of it was filler material instead of story or character... and by the time we get to the end we get ultra-bad dialogue and 2D characters and just crappy writing. Um, the villain gives a short speech that is not reflected *at all* by his character so far. Not only does this character who was least Likely Suspect Therefor Really A Bad Guy suddenly become the bad guy (without a single thing to set that up) he has no real motives and there was never a single clue until the very end (and that clue is completely contrived). Again, bad mystery writing skills. In a mystery the villain is always the villain, and his character is consistent - but through use of diversion/good writing/etc we don't realize that these are clues to them as the villain. When the villain is revealed, you want the audience to realize the clues were there all along. Again, in SIXTH SENSE once we know the twist at the end, we can watch the whole film again and see clue after clue after clue to that twist. Because what’s true about Willis’ character at the end of the movie is also true throughout the rest of the film. Like a magician, a good writer uses diversion to keep the audience from seeing the obvious.

One of the things I often do in my mystery scripts is come up with dialogue that has a double meaning, so that the audience thinks the character is talking about something story/plot related, but they are actually talking about their motivations for the crime. The audience doesn’t notice until the second time the see the movie. If you watch my HARD EVIDENCE movie again after knowing who the bad guy is, it suddenly seems obvious that he’s working to manipulate the situation so that our hero gets in even mote trouble... even though most people never notice this the first time they see the movie. You have to write the script to lead the audience to believe one thing when another is true. To have dialogue and actions that seem to mean one thing but actually mean something else.

In WHITE OUT, the character who ends up being the villain does a complete 180 at the end of the movie and turns from one character into another. Um, basic Egri stuff - you have to show the change (or, as in a mystery, have the characteristics that make them the villain look like something else). Oh, and the most stupid, 2D line in the whole film has to do with a certain element from a character's backstory being false... Why? No reason at all for this! Better if that element were true, because it makes for a more well-rounded villain. This awful line makes an obvious villain even more obvious! It removes any shading from the character and turns them into a completely black-hat villain.

Even though WHITEOUT has the characters trapped in the middle of nowhere - I never felt they were trapped the way I did in either version of THE THING... or even MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. They kept flying from place to place, and even when they were in a whiteout, they went out doors! This is a basic of thrillers - trapping the protagonist and making the walls seem to close in - but here, even when they were indoors there was always someplace to go... some new room we had never seen before. Major story mistake - thrillers trap the hero or chase the hero. Here we had no chase, and that leaves trapped... and no one seemed to be trapped.

By the time we get to the end and the MacGuffin, it makes no sense at all. Why would the Russians be doing this in the first place? It makes no sense. It's a twist thrown in that isn't set up and probably can not be set up. More rookie writing problems!

Now, I have no idea whether any of these problems are the writers’ faults, because I’ve been in the room when the bad story notes started flying and they say it’s too clever for the audience, too much work for the audience to keep up with all of those clues and suspects and motives... so they give it a “mysterectomy”. And directors forget to shoot the clues, and actors change good dialogue into bland dialogue. But somebody somewhere who is in charge of movies with a mystery element needs to understand the basics of the genre. In an interview in Script Magazine a few years ago, an agent seemed to have no idea what the mystery genre was all about... and that was kind of frightening. You want the guys making the decisions to understand the basics!

The film was directed by Dominic Sena, and Sena can't direct. He needs to be taken out behind the Hollywood sign and shot. He doesn’t understand the basics, and here’s why:

First: When characters are walking down a long spooky hallway where the killer could jump out at any minute? ONLY preceding the protagonist with the camera to show them walking, can't work; because we can't see the dark places where the killer could jump out of. You need to do POVs or some sort of over-the-shoulder POV, so that we can see what the character sees - and see all of the places where the killer may jump from. Instead, Sena gives us shots of Kate (or whoever) walking towards us in the dark with a flashlight - and there is no dread or suspense or anything.

Next: He skips the freaking detail shots! In the scene where she has no gloves, the scene is *obviously* about her hands, yet we get almost no shots of her hands doing all of the things her hands need to do. Instead, we get her face. Um, nice face, but I want to see the hands fumbling with the rope because they are numb. That's what the scene is *about*. Sena read that scene and didn’t get it - yet I saw the scene and knew what it was supposed to be about. It’s obvious. She’s outside in subzero weather and doesn’t have her gloves. She has to hold on to the guideline rope... with her hands. She has to pick things up.... with her hands. She needs to unlock the door... with her hands. But we don’t get any shots of her hands! Her hands are off screen while we focus on her face! We don't even see the big hand thing at the end of the scene until about ten beats after I already figured it out - making the film seem stupid to me.

Last: When we get to the end whiteout scene, it is shot with such confusion that I had no idea who was who and what was happening half the time. Part of this is costume department - everyone needs a specific color that we can identify them by, but Sena should have been aware of that. And he should have *shot* the scene with more detail shots and set up the goals in the scene so that we could understand them better. Instead, it's just a mess. You have no idea who anybody is in the snow and what they are doing and why they are doing it. A bunch of people running around in the snow.

Best thing about Sena's direction - the Antarctic means he can use that baby-crap yellow filter he uses in every movie.

Good things: I liked the opening of the film, that kind of made this outpost like MASH (missing Larry Gelbart already) complete with crazy loudspeaker, and then they introduce Tom Skerritt as the doc (who was a doc in MASH!). And the review I read mentioned how Kate should be a big enough star not to have to do the naked shower scene... and that scene was right up front and delivered. Until someone just opens the door to Kate’s room and walks in.

This whole script needed some of that White Out correction fluid.


Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Writing Over 40 - are you too old?
Yesterday's Dinner: El Pollo Loco chicken, black beans, corn, flour.
Bicycle: Just down the street.
Pages: Still working on the Script Magazine article, and prepping my London and Hong Kong Masterclasses.
SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example... wow, do you realize how many pivotal movies Patrick Swayze was in?

And, on the UK's Movies 4 Men 2 *today*:
14:00 - 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.

And just to show I will unleash my bad films on America...
9/18 - 10:00PM - Encore Action - SOFT TARGET. Mystery and clever lines completely removed, Gary Busey, and one word that's the same as my original script!

As usual, I am sorry to all.

- Bill

Monday, September 14, 2009

Never Say Never

Hollywood is a small world... where you keep bumping into the same idiots again and again.

Now, I’m sure that many people see me as an absolute prick - I’m one of those writers who isn’t always easy to work with... and I tend to have a big mouth that is always flapping about how this director ruined this script. Problem is, I really believe just because a film is made as entertainment doesn’t mean it can’t also be good. Many of my favorite films are really great genre films, some of which were made on the cheap but still pack a punch. So I’m always fighting to make the film the *best* that it can possibly be... and that often makes me “difficult”. When someone wants to make some change to the script that will make it stupid, I’m going to argue against it. I’ll probably lose, but that’s not going to stop me from trying to stop them from making a bad film.

I believe my job as the screenwriter is to be the brains of the film. To keep the story on track, to make sure we are going to film the very best version of that story there is. Even if we are making a film on a limited budget for a producer who is more interested in explosions and boobs (but probably not exploding boobs) we can still make a great film. There are great genre films made all the time - hey, have you seen the Spanish film TIMECRIMES yet?

But this business is filled with people whose egos are bigger than their talent. People who want things changed “just because” and end up shooting themselves in the foot by making a terrible film. My advice is to avoid dealing with people like that... but Hollywood often seems to be *mostly* people like that. The note I always joke about - “Why can’t they be cowboys?” came from a *studio* based producer, and the reason why there is a pointles sex scene on a submarine in CRASH DIVE is due to a note from HBO. I’ve had meetings with that producer's company at Warner Bros who wants to put a giant mechanical spider in every screenplay - check out Kevin Smith’s rant about this guy. It doesn’t matter the size of the budget or the importance of the project, there are notes and ideas that will turn a good script into a stinker *everywhere*. If you wonder why so few good films get made, it’s because it’s difficult to put all of the pieces together.. and some of the pieces are idiots. A film is only as good as the stupidest person involved.... and there’s at least one idiot on every film.

Here’s one of the things that you never want to learn, but you do anyway: usually it’s better to work with a nice idiot than a complete prick who may also be an idiot. Oops - didn’t I say somewhere up there that I am often a prick when it comes to stupid script changes? Damn! I’m the bad guy in my own scenario! But the thing is - if you are going to be working with someone on a film, doing rewrites for a couple of months before they shoot, you want to work with someone who isn’t going to be a daily battle. People who believe you are in some sort of power struggle and they must control the script to win. Every day is a fight, and they go out of their way to sabotage you. I’ve worked with those people, and *never again*!

But even someone who is not a prick can be difficult to work with if their ego is so big it gets in the way of making a good film. And there is no shortage of people with massive egos in Hollywood. Many times I have been working on some film where a completely wrong turn is made, and everybody knows it, but the guy who made the wrong turn is completely unwilling to admit they made a mistake... so they insist on going in the wrong direction! Everybody knows we are about to drive off a cliff, but nobody can stop it because they guy who made the wrong turn is more powerful than anyone else on the project (or people think he or she is). The film ends up awful, and everybody knew that would happen halfway through Story Meeting #2 when they heard that bad note.

Here is what I find frustrating about this - if only that person with the massive ego had just listened to everyone around them, they would have made a better film that would have made more money and cost less and audiences would have liked it more. Of course, sometimes people with massive egos surround themselves with sycophants, so all they hear is “Genius idea!” and Bill saying “That will ruin the movie!” I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve worked on where someone in power (often the producer, director, or star) has a really bad idea that will sink the film *and* cost the producer more money, but has no logical explanation for why this change should be made. I ask what the reason for the change is, because sometimes there’s a “note under the note” - an actual problem, they just have the worst solution possible. I can come up with a better solution - often one that improves the entire script - and we can all be happy.

Hey, nothing is perfect including my scripts, and I just want to make everything better. If someone spots a problem that needs to be solved, I want to get it solved. If someone spots a weakness that needs to be made stronger - I want to fix that! My goal is always to make the script the best it can possibly be, so that the movie can be the best it can possibly be. Part of a good writer’s job is to ditch your ego and focus on making the script better. Bad writers never want to change a word - it’s all about their ego. Good writers want to make any changes that make the script better, even if it makes them look like an idiot in the process. I would rather look like an idiot in a story meeting and have my name on a good film... of course, so far the good film part hasn’t happened for me.

I am a commercial guy. I write the kinds of movies I regularly pay to see. I’m not trying to turn TRANSFORMERS 2 into an arthouse film, I just want to make the best popcorn film possible. You know, I really liked BATMAN BEGINS and that is a superhero movie... and I liked the PIRATES movies (yes, the first one is best) and those are based on a theme park ride. I am also a huge fan of SLITHER and THE HOWLING and the original PIRANHA and all kinds of sleazy little films that deliver the thrills without sacrificing the quality. I love action movies, and would never want to cut out the action part... I just want to make sure the story part is the best it can be as well. In fact, you would think that the reason why someone hires me (or you or whoever) is because they want an *expert* doing the writing, not some guy standing in front of Home Depot looking for work. They aren’t hiring a *typist* they are hiring a writer. You would think when it came to the writing part, they would at least listen to what we had to say. You hire an expert to get the expert’s knowledge and experience, right?

But often in Hollywood it seems like they hire the expert just to cover their butts. “Hey, we threw two Oscar Winners and the guy who wrote last year’s #1 movie at the script, so we had the writing part covered!” They don’t actually *listen* to those writers, they just order them to write the awful version of the script and try to make it work without removing what makes it awful. The best example of this is probably ARMAGEDDON - a film that probably every name writer in Hollywood worked on. In interviews, all of the writers *hated* the scene where the Mir Space Station explodes for no apparent reason, and they all fought (individually) to get that scene out of the script. What is it doing in there? It serves no purpose and makes zero sense - why would you need to refuel that close to Earth when we can fly to the moon and back without any problem? But when every writer fought against that scene, ego rather than logic won out. There was no reason for the scene - the director just wanted it, and the director is god... and many of them believe they are gods. You would think that after every name writer you hire says the same thing, you might stop to consider that all of them are right... but in Hollywood ego is stronger than anything. ARMAGEDDON isn’t the best movie ever made, but it was a hit. Many movies where ego is substituted for logic and quality aren’t as lucky... they stink and the audience can smell it from the trailer.

You’d think when you asked the egotistical producer why they think the modern day bank robbers should be cowboys, they’d have some logical answer. But often you get a “it just feels right that way” when it doesn’t make any sense at all to do it that way. Even if you are just going to spend $2-3 million on one of the little movies I’ve written, you don’t want to make a change on a hunch that makes no logical sense when what is already on the page makes complete sense. Yet that happens again and again - with the change torpedoing a perfectly sound script. And often these "hunch changes" add cast and locations to the budget, but take away the excitement or novelty or high concept. Sometimes the ego thing is so strong that a change is made because the great idea in the script didn’t come from the director or producer... so they remove the great idea and add... nothing! The film becomes complete crap, costs more and earns less, but at least that person’s ego is stroked! They got their way!

There are some stars out there who have a policy of never hiring any actor who is better than they are, so that *they* will be the actor who shines in the movie, not some other guy. No Morgan Freeman cameos in these star’s films! No role for Robert Duvall or Gene Hackman. These stars want to be the center of attention - even if that means they surround themselves with second string actors. They are afraid of being upstaged by someone better than they are. They *demand* that the producer only hire people they approve of - and as “stars” they have enough power to get away with this. But this is so short sighted! Just like anything else, when you work with people better than you are, it forces you to learn and grow and make those artistic leaps that make *you* better. I *want* to work with people better than myself - that challenge is what makes it fun and exciting for me. I don’t want to be surrounded by people who *don’t* challenge me - then it’s just the same old thing. I don’t want to ever work with directors or producers or stars who agree with everything I say. I want the kind of spirited intelligent debate that makes my scripts better than I could have ever written them. Film is collaborative - and I am interested in working *with* others in order to improve my script and make the best possible film.

But there are people who don’t want to work *with* you, they want to work *against* you - thinking that this is all some big competition that they need to win.

On one of my films, the director shows up at the first meeting so overly assertive I would like to punch him. Now, directors are assertive by nature - and I have worked with a whole bunch of them at this point, but this guy is pushing so hard it’s obvious he’s trying to break me. This guy, for whatever reason that might be solved by a product sold through e-mail spam, needs to smash down everyone around him so that he can be on top. He is so verbally abusive to me at our first meeting that I tell the producer he’d better be Orson effing Welles when he gets behind the camera. The producer thinks this is funny, and mentions it to the director, who shows up at our next meeting with a baseball cap that says “I AM Orson Effing Welles” - and tells me if I don’t shut up and treat him with respect (ie: as the god he believes he is) he will have me replaced (on my original script). Now, someone else might have told him to go eff himself, but I said nada - I did not kiss his ass nor call him an ass. I said, let’s get to work on the script. To me, it’s all about having the best script possible. I will work with anyone and put up with almost anything to make a good movie.

The director has this idea - why not add a boat! Have a whole scene take place on a boat! I mention that the cable network has given us a set budget - and transplanting a scene from the original location which is used several times in the screenplay (making it sort of amortized) to some boat that will only be used once will increase the budget without really giving us anything. The original location has some great production value (coastline overlooking the ocean - beautiful), why does he want to change it? Because he’s Orson Effing Welles and he says so, why do I need any other reason? He just “feels” it will be a better scene in a boat. I ask *why* he feels this - can he explain it to me, so that it will help me get his vision on screen (remember that line for when *you* are dealing with an egotistical idiot). The guy can not explain why - and it’s not because he isn’t articulate enough, it’s because there really is no reason - it’s all just some idea off the top of his head that he hasn’t really thought through.

I suspect these folks do not *want* to think too hard about these bad ideas, because then they will realize for themselves that they are bad ideas and will realize that the man behind the curtain is a fraud... and they really aren’t The Wizard Of Oz or a god or Orson Effing Welles. I suspect that everyone with an inflated ego is trying to hide their inabilities. You know what the problem with that is? The people with the biggest egos are the ones who should *never* be in change because they have the most inabilities. The squeakiest wheel should be replaced, not oiled.

So, I make the change, and a scene that worked well at the original location gets shoe-horned onto a boat and doesn’t work as well and will cost the production more. I turn in the script, there’s that long reading period - it takes them as long to read it as it took me to write it - and we have our big script meeting with the producer... And the very first thing the producer says is: “Bill - why is this scene on a boat? It worked better before... and where do you think the money is going to come from? You know how expensive it is to shoot anything on water.” And the director turned to the producer and said, “I told Bill it was a bad idea when he came up with it, but he insisted on writing it that way.” And I’m sure there was post-meeting discussion about replacing me with a writer who understood how to write for the budget limitations of pay-cable movies. I wanted to tell the producer it was not my idea, but that makes it look like *I’m* the one playing politics instead of the director.

Another thing I’ve learned is that the least competent people know all of the ways to blame others and get away with it - they have remained employed-while-incompetent because they know how to make it look like everyone else’s fault in such a way that the innocent who get blamed can’t complain without making themselves look guilty. They know how to play the political side of film making to cover up their lack of knowledge when it comes to the technical and artistic sides. So, I vowed never to work with that director again.

There are a handful of people I have vowed never to work with again. They can ruin any script... and seem to set out to do that very thing. They have made my Never Again List.

But here’s the problem - Hollywood is a small town. You keep bumping into the same people again and again. A couple of days ago I get a call from a guy I know who has read a few of my scripts - he knows of a new company looking for projects so that they can sell them at AFM. These guys have the money to make a couple of films, have the distribution experience to sell them, and have connections with actors and directors... only one problem - one of the guys in this new company is on my Never Again list. In fact, he’s on many people’s Never Again lists. He has an ego bigger than his talent, and has a way of turning a good script into crap by the time it hist the screen.

Okay, the big projects is slowly inching its way along - you know how some movies took ten years to get to the screen? I’m starting to worry. My last film was released 2 years ago... there are people who think I’m dead, like John Wayne in BIG JAKE. Do I have enough hair left to work with this guy again?

I always hope these guys learn some sort of lesson from the ego-driven flops, and that they’ll actually listen when you explain why their hunch idea will not only cost more, it will screw up the film so that it earns less. You know, I’m not fighting the bad idea so that I can be top dog or something - I’m still the writer, which puts me *beneath* the guy who gets the donuts - I just want this to be the best film possible so that the film makes a lot of money and people like it and the producer ends up making a lot of money and having people tell him how much they loved that movie they made from my script... and all of that may trickle down into the producer buying another script from me or hiring me to write their next project. I am a smart enough screenwriter to know that my ego isn’t as important as the film - if some scene I really love doesn’t work as well as some other scene that the idiot back-stabbing director comes up with, I am writing the director’s scene idea. The best work wins, not the best man (or the man with the most ego and power). If I can not explain why one scene works better than another, I have no right to complain or fight for my “hunch scene”. “I just feel that this scene is better” is just ego talking - not reason. It’s that Hollywood Brain Cloud from Terry Rossio’s column - that thing that attacks people who have lived in Hollywood for a while and makes them believe that their really really bad idea is a great idea. That they know what works because they’ve been doing this for years - and their *hunch*, their *feeling*, trumps any logical explanation anyone else might have for why it doesn’t work or why some other idea works better. It’s that raging ego telling them that they are always right - especially when they are wrong - and they should destroy anyone who does not agree with them... or who might be able to prove they are wrong.

So, did I tell my friend *not* to send this new company my scripts because at least one of them is a complete idiot who will probably let his ego get in the way of making a good movie? Did I tell him that I have vowed never to work with that one guy again in my life?

You know the joke about the guy who shovels elephant poop all day long at the Circus who was asked we he doesn’t quit his job?

Never say never.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Writing Comedy - Many Jokes Are Required - and UNDERCOVER BROTHER.
Yesterday's Dinner: In & Out Double Double.
Bicycle: Medium bike ride - was going to do an epic on Sunday but had too much work to do and didn't want to burn myself out.
Movies: WHITEOUT - and I'll report on that tomorrow.
Pages: Working on a (late) article for Script Magazine, and prepping my London and Hong Kong Masterclasses... so not much screenwriting this week.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Used Poorly

You know the feeling. You are closing in on FADE OUT on your new script and you read in the trades about some other script that just sold for a pile of money with the same idea... just the stupid version. This happens all the time to me - I remember having a conversation with a producer who was once interested in the screenplay which would become CROOKED right after the movie 16 BLOCKS came out about how it was the stupid version of my script. Of course, about a month later CROOKED would have its own stupid version. But the problem is, once that script is sold or film is made your idea is “used” and difficult to get anyone to read or buy. Sure, sometimes one studio will want to compete with another by buying a similar screenplay... but often you pitch the script and they mention that other film as the way to not have to even read your script.

So, as I’m still trying to get to the finish line on SECOND SON (didn’t happen while I was away from LA), I see the trailer for this film LEGION... which is about protecting a chick pregnant with the second son. Crap! But the trailer barely mentions this, because it seems to be too busy ripping off Greg Widen’s GOD’S ARMY (PROPHECY) about a battle between angels on Earth. Oh, and also seems to be ripping off FEAST of all things, because the battle seems to take place at some roadside diner in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and the things attacking the diner seem to be some fairly generic zombies. The trailer isn’t doing anything for me, except pissing me off that it’s also about the second coming... like my script.

The next day, I go over to the excellent blog Script Shadow, and there is a review of the screenplay. Now, this may sound crazy to you - but I am actually hoping that LEGION is much much better than the trailer. I am hoping that LEGION is an amazing movie that completely knocks my socks off. Why? Because if I’m going to lose this screenplay contest, I want to lose it to a great movie. I want LEGION to be the film *I* wanted to see when I came up with the idea for SECOND SON (which is really 2ND SON with the S a backwards 2 so that you get three characters one way and seemingly three characters the opposite way, and the script centers on three characters - I think about stuff like this because it kills the time when I should be writing scripts). If I get beaten, I want it to be by a better project. I want LEGION to be the movie I was writing, but cooler. Better than what I was writing.

Aside: 2ND SON is actually a page one rewrite (not a single word from the original so far) about a woman pregnant with the President’s illegitimate son. So I’m grafting this new idea onto the story - and it’s managed to change everything. But this script was never intended for my “A Team Stockpile” of scripts that go to agents and managers as potential big studio sales. This script was always intended as just some cruddy little action script I could sell while I was waiting to sell one of the big ones. This was never anything other than a second string script...

So, when I read the script review at Script Shadow, I am hoping that LEGION is the brilliant and better version of my script. It’s the one that *should* be made. But the review... well, they don’t like the script at all. Seems the thing is boring and has crazy plotting and gets even basic religious stuff wrong. Now, I haven’t set foot in a church since I graduated High School, but I can still read books and the Google function on my computer works well - so I know how many Dead Sea Scrolls there are and basically what each is about. I did a bunch of basic research and some more thorough research whenever it was required in the story. I’m sure I got some things wrong or only half right, but I don’t think the normal person in the audience would ever notice. I don’t think any studio reader would be pulled out of the story by something that is obviously just wrong - as they were in LEGION. And the script review makes it sound even more like a rehash than it looked in the trailer. Yikes!

Now, here’s the part that probably pisses me off the most: Probably because 2nd SON is a page one of a completely different script, I have gone out of my way to come up with cool types on demons that attack them. I have “snake spitters” who look just like anyone you know - like your best friend or your grandma - but they spit rattle snakes at you. I have “dust devils” that form from the dust under your bed or the dirt in your backyard... spinning until they become humanoid. They blast down your throat and into your nose, chocking you to death. Oh, and if you lock yourself in a room (with no dust under the bed or behind the furniture) you better make sure there isn’t a gap between the door and jam or a window partially open, because these things with turn back to dust to get inside... then re-form... then kill you. I have “brimstoners” who can turn into fire and burn you alive. I have all kinds of cool demonic things that are out to get those three characters on the run. I took the time to come up with something that wasn’t just zombies. How many hundreds of zombie movies have we had over the past few years? Why not come up with something we haven’t seen in a while?

And, I don’t know what happens in LEGION, but in 2ND SON, the bad guys actually get the pregnant gal, and our heroes have to get her back before they kill the unborn savior. So the story travels into the sewers... and into that passage-way to Hell that’s down there. Because if you’re the Vatican’s version of Indiana Jones who no longer believes in *organized* religion and the only one who will help you is some hospital orderly who sings in his church choir and believes in the church but not God, the last place you want to go is Hell - where you are seriously out numbered and have no chance of surviving. But, I guess a truck stop is a better location. I was thinking low budget - and some Hell set built in a warehouse in Valencia. I wanted to make this as difficult for my characters as possible, and as interesting to the audience as possible. If I’ve seen it before, I don’t want to see it again. I’ve seen zombies. I’ve seen truck stops. I’ve seen angels battle on Earth. Yes, I have also seen Indiana Jones... but his quest is over in the first 10 minutes when he gets the scroll, and the rest is kind of Indiana Jones out-of-water with him in Detroit fighting demons. Haven’t seen that before.

I try to make every moment in my scripts something interesting or involving or amusing. Not that all of it works 100%, but I *try* to make it work. The opening scene of 2ND SON has him measuring a distance - so I had him measure in cubits... and his arm was too long so he has to use someone else’s arm... and that person is reluctant for several reasons... and our hero gets so wrapped up in measuring that he almost walks off a cliff... and, well, as many cool ideas as I could come up with for that scene. I kind of look at cool ideas like those jokes in AIRPLANE! - not all of them are going to work (have the audience think, “That’s cool!”), so you have to put in as many as you can. I look at a scene, what needs to happen, the location, the characters; and I brainstorm up as many ideas as I can. Some don’t fit - so I toss them. Nothing worse than trying to force something cool into a scene where it doesn’t belong. But the ones that work I try to find a place for. Not all end up in the script, that’s okay. When I see a movie, one of the things I love is when they do something cool that’s *not* some big thing. Some little detail. Some minor thing that shows imagination. In the first TERMINATOR movie when Ah-nuld speaks on the phone in the mother’s voice it just blew me away! That’s nothing big or flashy - just one of those little ideas between the big ones. A little moment that could have been just some normal thing we’ve seen a million times before. But where’s the fun in that? You know, when the dust bunnies under the bed begin forming into a *person*, I hope the audience will think that’s cool. I hope they will go home after seeing the movie and sweep under their beds. When one of the dust devils turns back to dust and blows into the sidekick’s nose, I’m hoping the audience goes “eww!” and remembers the time dust blew in their noses. And hopes he can blow it all out before it gets to his brain.

Yes, this is one colossal sour-grapes vent, and I’m sorry you had to read it. I’m sure LEGION will be an amazing film and that if the shoe were on the other foot everyone would be complaining about what a piece of crap my script is. Except my script was always intended to be on the B Team. Maybe that’s a good thing - my script can now sell as the “rip-off” of LEGION. (Um, wasn’t EXORCIST 3 titled LEGION?) Well, to do that, I have to finish the sucker. Better quit complaining and get back to work.

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - Seating Is Limited!

- Bill

My attack on the United Kingdom continues on Movies 4 Men 2:

9/10/09 - Back To Back Martell Movies!

15:45 - 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.

17:30 - 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!

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


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Should I Pay For Notes? - a brand new tip! And Wednesday, another new tip called YOU CAN'T DO THAT IN A MOVIE! about going over the line on purpose to wake up the audience. Working on a new tip for Thursday on Making Your Script Seem Real and one of Friday on Conflict Driven and maybe one on Monday about Character Conservation.
Yesterday's Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad.
Bicycle: I have still not taken a ride down to look at the flood area! But yesterday I did take a medium length ride into NoHo.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

New Issue Of Script Magazine

The new issue of Script Magazine just hit the newsstands, and here's what's inside:




Where the Wild Things Are
What makes adapting beloved children's books so daunting? Is it the pressure of pleasing all the book's cross-generational fans? Is it the task of making the author of the original story happy with the outcome? Is it the work of avoiding the tendency of other children's-book films to fall into a gimmicky trap? Yes, yes and yes. Oscar®-nominee Spike Jonze and Pulitzer-nominee Dave Eggers talk about how they met these challenges and more for their highly anticipated Where the Wild Things Are.

Truth is Beauty: Jane Campion's Bright Star
If the love story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne -- lofty and unconsummated; defined by ecstatic verse but behavioral decorum; a mere three years in duration before the poet's untimely death -- seems an unlikely subject for a feature film, you haven't reckoned on the knack of Oscar®-winner Jane Campion for reimagining the romantic past. She explains to Script how she put poetry in motion.

Script to Screen: Laeta Kalogridis' Shutter Island
As the screenwriter of epic historic drama (Alexander) and sci-fi series TV (Bionic Woman), Laeta Kalogridis always wanted to write a thriller but resisted the form. After reading Dennis Lehane's novel Shutter Island, Kalogridis decided to try the thriller genre via classic noir. Her adaptation earned the attention of noir fan Martin Scorsese, who ultimately decided to direct the film, bringing with him Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley to star.

Writers on Writing: The Burning Plain
With acclaimed screenplays like Amores Perros, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and Babel, Guillermo Arriaga has become one of the most important writers to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. When he completed his latest script, The Burning Plain, he decided to take his singular voice behind the camera as well. Here, Arriaga explains his writing process and how he took to directing his first feature.

Exposition is a Pain in the Ass
Expository dialogue is often awkward -- as a writer to create, and as an audience to listen to. In short, it's a pain in the ass. But a few storyists have managed to create exposition as a seamless part of the narrative, providing pain-free examples for the scribes among us.

New Media: The State of Online Media
Where is this online creative utopia everyone keeps promising? Has the online-media boom gone bust already? Not quite, but the rules are constantly changing. Learn what new-media experts at NATPE '09 had to say about the state of online media.

Screenwriting Snafus
Story analyst Staton Rabin has read spec scripts numbering in the thousands, and the avoidable errors in both mechanics and style sometimes give her a pounding headache. To help Rabin avoid her next migraine, apply her tips for structuring a great spec.

Training for the New Frontier
With young professionals looking for jobs in every corner of the industry -- and finding them increasingly in reality television, new media, and videogames -- course content geared toward these emerging opportunities would be a welcome addition to any curriculum. What are traditional film and screenwriting programs doing to prepare their students for a new Hollywood?

Small Screen: FlashForward
As ABC looks for another show to generate the same fan mania as Lost and the same awards as Grey's Anatomy, industry veterans David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga, with ABC's trusted Marc Guggenheim, combine character drama and sci-fi elements in this fall's FlashForward.



Independents: Ensemble Casts
Seventy years ago, the Oscar®-nominated Stagecoach showed us how to create the perfect ensemble drama. Directors like Robert Altman and writers like David Mamet have made the ensemble essential to their long and distinguished careers. What's so dynamic about ensemble casts, and how do they help shape a story?

10 Big Mistakes (According to Agents and Managers)
You want to know how agents and managers think and what they are looking for? Well, they're telling you. Jim Cirile interviews seven industry pros about the mistakes newbie writers make -- from negligent financial planning to poor interpersonal communication -- and explains how you can avoid falling through the same trapdoors.

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


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: "Changing Clothes" and the DOOMSDAY drinking game - every time you see a direct rip from another movie, do a shot! You'll be trashed before the opening credits.
Yesterday's Dinner: Fish & Chips.
Bicycle: A nice ride to a Starbucks just far enough to get the blood flowing, not so far that I died from heatstroke. Yesterday was kind of my first normal day in a few weeks: wasn't trying to catch up on sleep and didn't have a bunch of stupid errands to do - I just did some writing. That's the plan for today, too.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Red Cliff

I had another post I was going to run today - me bitching about something - but I bumped it, because last night I went to a screening of the new John Woo movie RED CLIFF. The film is 5 hours in the rest of the world, and shown in 2 parts, but in the USA we get a 2.5 hour version with subtitles, but an English language voice over at the beginning telling us some of the stuff we missed when they cut it.

There are some quick flashbacks in the film that I suspect may be CROUCHING TIGER - HIDDEN DRAGON style 30 minute side stories in the full length version. I think they work well in the short version - you get enough to fill in the rest.



I really liked it - Giant epic period battles and a legend-type story like CROUCHING-HIDDEN. I know there is an audience for CROUCHING-HIDDEN and HERO and other period martial arts flicks, but while I was watching I was wondering how you get the LORD OF THE RINGS crowd to buy a ticket, because I think they might like this, too. It's an epic, has great scenes of people doing amazing heroic things, and has no shortage of action. In the press notes Woo says the US version focuses on the action - and he ain't kidding. This film is one cool fight scene after another... but it still has time for love... and betrayal... and revenge.

I loved the many clever things in the story: a guy who wins battles because he knows about weather, a princess who dresses like a man to go undercover behind enemy lines (one of the gals from SO CLOSE), lots of plots twists and, of course, stuff that blows up. Opens in November in the USA.

Now, here's the pisser: this was a press screening, full of critics and media folks. They handed out 32 pages of notes, including bios on most of the cast, the 2 cinematographers, the handful of producers, the stunt co-ordinator, the composer, the costume designer... everybody! Except the screenwriters. The three screenwriters who get credits on the film, and are even on the credits page in the notes, get no bio at all. No mention in those 32 pages, except in the credit page. What's up with that? No wonder critics give the director all of the credit - the press people aren't giving the writers a bio page!

I think I'm going to use RED CLIFF in my next article for Script Magazine, and I'm going to use IMDB to find out more about the writers - and focus on them. Do what probably no one else at that screening will do - write about the folks who write the movies. Be interesting to see if any of the reviews even mention the writers.

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


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Story Form and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and MEMENTO.
Yesterday's Dinner: Pizza at some place in Beverly Hills.
Bicycle: Haven't really been on the bike in 6 weeks! So, yesterday I had a nice bike ride in the smokey hot hell of LA. My legs screamed, but I rode through that. Now, I just need to keep riding and lose all of that Vegas buffet weight I put on.
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