Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Sale

Just In Time For The Holidays!

Best Prices Ever on Class Audio CDs ($8) and other select items - prices will never be this low again (Okay, maybe *next* Black Friday)! The prices good ONLY November 27, 28, 29 & 30... Sale ENDS November 30th ("Cyber Monday") at midnight.

For those of you who don't know - Black Friday is our American shopping holiday. Day after Thanksgiving, when all of the Christmas sales begin... usually at 4am. People actually camp out in front of the stores days in advance to be the first ones inside to get the best deals before the store runs out of merchandise. Last year, someone was trampled to death trying to get a sale item. It's festive! Why do they call it Black Friday? A retail store in the red can get back in the black in one day. Not wanting to be left out of the festivities, I figured I'd slash some prices for 3 days. No need to camp out in front of the store or get up at 4.


And because it's Friday, here is Jonathan Coe on SABOTAGE:

And I hope that next Friday there will be an actual Fridays With Hitchcock entry!

Now I am going to go see what DVDs are on sale...

- Bill

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DVD Times Two

In Brazil, one of my films is a brand new double bill on DVD. You can now get BLACK THUNDER in Portugese *plus* get some movie I did not write! Thanks to my friend Osvaldo for sending this to me.

Does this mean hot models from Rio will dump Leo and come after me? I sure hope so!

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: That great one on Tennis Plotting - and SPEED.
Yesterday's Dinner: McDonalds halfway through a bike ride.
Bicycle: Crazy long bike ride as I attempted to find a non-crowded place to work... and the ride home last night almost froze me.

Underpants T shirt

Top 10 Films About Underpants T Shirt: SALE $9.99

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writer's Roundtable - Is The Film The Movie?

And here is part last of the screenwriters round table, where they discuss whether the films resembled their scripts...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: All about your villain - using past Oscar nominees SNAKES ON A PLANE, PHONE BOOTH and LAKEVIEW TERRACE as (bad) examples.
Yesterday's Dinner: Del Taco #6.

Writers Roundtable - Success?

Today I'm posting the other two parts of the Hollywood Reporter's writers round table discussion (last one is at 2pm). The problem yesterday seemed to be that every single writer's website linked or embedded the interviews, and you could not get through to see it. Same problem may happen today. I suggest trying after 5 or 6pm Pacific Time when most folks have gone home for the day.

So, here's part 2 about dealing with success... or even if these folks have found success...

Last one pops at 2pm.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: All about your villain - using past Oscar nominees SNAKES ON A PLANE, PHONE BOOTH and LAKEVIEW TERRACE as (bad) examples.
Yesterday's Dinner: Del Taco #6.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writer's Roundtable - Inspirtation & theme

Hollywood Reporter does a series of round table conversations with people in the biz around award season - each segment is about 2 minutes - and here's part one of the series about screenwriters...

Congratulations to the 100 folks who made the semi-finals in Script Shadow's logline contest! Um, I ended up being one of them. Entered on a whim. After reading the other entries - I don't have a chance in hell.

And I have other scripts and projects circling which I will blog about later. Now they're still dreams and possibilities. But, things are happening!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: You Are A Failure! - and there is nothing wrong with that.
Yesterday's Dinner: Togos sandwich - tuna.
Bicycle: Short ride to an undisclosed location that is not crowded.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Clash Of The Titans

Ray Harryhausen. When I was a kid, that name meant magic. Probably the first Harryhausen film I saw was MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and it was one of those films that made me want to make movies. It's still one of my favorite movies. The creatures in that film were so real! How did they do that?

And that's how I got to know Harryhausen's name. I started to look for movies he did special effects on - and discovered fighting skeletons and sea monsters and cowboys who roped dinosaurs... and Dynamation (also, the Super type). This guy made things that could usually only exist in the imagination of a kid into something that could battle Kerwin Matthews on screen! He made magic into reality.

But the problem with being a star special effects guy is finding stories where the special effects were the stars... at least, that was a problem in the pre-CGI times. So CLASH OF THE TITANS was Harryhausen and his producing partner Charles Schneer's new excuse to do some stop motion work... and they cast prettyboy Harry Hamlin and brilliant-but-down-on-his-luck actor Laurence Olivier, and the film was, well, okay. The mechanical owl was kind of silly - I'm sure in response to STAR WARS' R2D2.

But a new generation of kids saw that magic and remembered the film... and became studio executives. So a film that was just an excuse for Ray Harryhausen's special effects has been remade *without* those effects. And here's the teaser trailer...

And here's the trailer for the original film...

- Bill

Makes 2012 Look Like A Disneyland Ride

Coming Friday to Los Angeles and New York, this nice little documentary shot at the same location as one of the low budget horror movies I worked on... but much more frightening. It's all about the end of the world. Not some Roland Emmerich natural disaster, but burning through all of our natural resources and killing ourselves. And not sometime in the future - sometime very very soon.

Maybe by 2012.

This looks interesting. It's the end of the world, baby!

- Bill

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

After the doom and gloom of yesterday's post, something to cheer you up. Sesame Street is 40 years old... and still going strong.

Though The Muppets were aimed at adults and kids, Sesame Street was aimed at kids... and still managed to appeal to adults. The characters where wild and fun and irreverent. Here's a song from Ernie...

And a cross-over from The Muppets Kermit singing a song...

Which brings me to my favorite song of all, from THE MUPPET MOVIE. It's not just some silly Muppet song, it's about *me* and it's probably about you, too.

That song just brightens my day.

Tomorrow - back to doom and gloom... and sometime soon, an entry about The Brad Pitt Guy.

- Bill

Monday, November 09, 2009

Is Cinema Dead?

The American Film Market is going on right now in Santa Monica... or maybe it’s *not* going on. If you have a film market and nobody comes, is it still a film market?

Is this the canary in the coal mine for cinema?


In case you don’t know what a Film Market is, it’s a market where they sell films. Obvious, huh? When a producer makes a film they still need to sell it to a distributor... actually, usually several distributors. Basically, these days a studio is really just a distributor and a bank... they fund a producer’s film in exchange for distribution rights. The producer makes a % of what the film makes after the studio subtracts distribution fees and overhead and the cost of making the film and the townhouse they keep in Marina Del Rey for the studio chief’s mistress to live in. But these days, even studios are looking for money from other sources, and often co-producing some film with some other studio in some other country, or just acting as a distrib for hire for films made in some other country.

Most studios either have long standing deals with foreign distribs or they have their own foreign distribution arm. At one point in time many of the majors shared a foreign distribution company, but I think those days are long gone - too much money in foreign distribution to share with the competition. But as more film finance money comes from outside the USA, in order to get the money a studio must often give up foreign distribution or at least share it.

But not every producer has a studio deal - some are independent and have no foreign distribution in place and sell their films to foreign distribs on a film-by-film basis. There are somewhere around 70 foreign territories that buy USA films for their country (or countries - some territories cover more than one country connected by a common language or geography). These independents go to markets - kind of like a trade show - and sell their films...

And USA indie distribs go to these markets to buy foreign films. Often the indie production company will buy the foreign films, take them back to the USA, and sell them to a USA distrib along with their own movies. Anyway - there’s this whole business of buying and selling films to overseas distribs, and the big markets are Cannes (the festival is the sideline, the market is what it’s really all about) and American Film Market. Now, the Hong Kong Market is taking hold, too. Used to be a marked in Milan, MIFED, but it’s gone.

The thing about these markets, and American Film Market is where it is most obvious, is that “Independent” covers a lot of ground - from all of those serious dramatic Oscar contenders to modern day grindhouse films. It’s not unusual to see some Merchant-Ivory style adaptation of some classic novel you read the Cliff Notes to in High School being sold across the hall from BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS. Anything made outside the studio system is here...

Along with films you *think* are studio films but are really some sort of foreign coproduction starring Bruce Willis or Al Pacino or someone else who “likes to work”.


When I first began going to American Film Market it was held in Beverly Hills and *crowded* with buyers and sellers and a million cool movies. Those were the years where a small video company could still get films with B movie starts in cinemas - and you might see some Gary Busey action flick at your local multiplex, or one of those Canon Films with Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris or American Ninja Michael Dudikoff... and a year later the films would go to VHS where they probably belonged. But, as a guy working in a warehouse back then, those were the movies we all saw after work. Beers first, movie, then more beers. And sometimes these movies did some breakout business and became DIRTY DANCING (made by Vestron Video). That’s when cinema - and low budget cinema - was alive and kicking! (especially in the Chuck Norris movies)

A couple of years later AFM moved to Santa Monica, and was still going strong. The films were not getting that theatrical window anymore, but VHS was *hot* and had become a separate market with separate stars. It was strange because there were some stars who were huge in cinemas but when the films went to VHS they bombed... and other people who were nothing in cinemas but massive stars on VHS. And it seemed like the market was still *expanding* for independent films (both arthouse and grindhouse) - cable needed movies! DVD replaced VHS, and needed new movies. And then the studios began to realize that DVD was making so much money on non-theatricals that they jumped in making DVD originals... or, trying to. Studios always seem to have problems making movies on a budget, and are used to throwing money at a problem instead of creativity.

Well, a few years ago AFM began to contract instead of expand... though, they actually expanded geographically by taking over the hotel next door. For the first time there were fewer people at market than the year before, even though the PR firm the AFM hired kept trying to convince us there were more people.

But here’s the gauge - at Beverly Hills you could not get on an elevator. There were hundreds of people waiting for the elevator at any time of the day... so you had to climb the stairs. When they moved to Santa Monica - same exact thing. HUNDREDS of people waiting for the elevator... even on one of the slow days! You had to climb the stairs. By the end of AFM my legs were throbbing and jelly-like. But over the years the crowds at the elevators have gotten smaller, and my joke for the last couple of years is that you could actually get on an elevator right away if you didn’t mind being packed in there.

Saturday I’m at AFM, talking about how it isn’t crowded, and I mentioned the elevator thing, and looked over... and there was *no one* waiting for the elevator. No one. The elevator doors opened and *one person* walked out - no one else in the elevator.


Wednesday afternoon when I dropped by to pick up my badge and the catalogues, it was practically empty... but it’s a week day. Weekdays can be weak days. Never this slow before, but I was sure by Saturday and Sunday the place would be packed. Usually the weekend has a great show in the lobby - hundreds of undiscovered actresses wearing the legal minimum of clothing show up to pass out headshots (insert the obvious joke) and try to get a role in some movie being set up at the market. Also actors, composers, posers, directors, writers, and people who have business cards that say they are producers. They crowd the lobby, pouncing on anyone with a badge. I call them the Lobby Rats. After 6pm you might also see some B movie stars (or even an A movie star from one of the big budget films) in the bar, secretly looking for work. They are the center of attention and I’ll bet none of them even have to buy their own drinks. Just for fun, Troma often sends down some costumed superheroes to promote their films, and other companies or producers might have a team of hot women in T shirts with the film’s title or in costume from the film as promotion. It’s a circus, and fun to watch.

This year - no circus. I was there Friday, and the lobby was almost empty. After hours, Fred Williamson showed up, but the place was still mostly empty. Let me put it this way - there are maybe a half dozen tables in the bar area of the lobby, and usually you can’t get near one. This year, I could have sat at the one behind Fred... it was empty!

Saturday? The same. I saw Corbin Bernsen walk past, but no Al Pacino or Val Kilmer or any of the other guys who I’ve seen before. And the lobby was mostly empty - not even the costumed Troma people. Not even the undiscovered actresses. The place was dead!

The hallways were empty. The elevators were empty. The lobby was mostly empty.


One of the strange things this year was the exploitation companies selling those Oscar movies. It seems that when they closed down the studio indie labels and the independent art house labels began going out of business, there was no one left to sell art house movies to the foreign market except those grindhouse companies. The latest Polish Brothers quirky arthouse movie starring Billy Bob Thornton was being sold by the company best know for flicks like the Steve Guttenberg thriller FATAL RESCUE. I know you've seen that one - it stars the Gutt! There just aren’t any arthouse places left! They closed Miramax!

And that’s the thing that’s scary. The studios say they are hurting now that DVD sales are off due to the economy and need to find ways to cut their film budgets. The studios have stopped making indie films and don't make many prestige films. Those larger budget indie films with stars are not being made, and when they are, they end up being sold by some grindhouse company because they are still in business. But even the grindhouse companies are in trouble, because that middle has fallen out of low budget. There are still films made for under a million (many well under) and still films made for over $10 million that will get a theatrical release from some studio... but nothing in between.

Over the years I’ve seen big companies die and those scrappy little guys who had offices in the basement of the hotel start to climb floors until their offices were in prime real estate. I’m sure I have mentioned Brain Damage Films before - I’ve talked to the guy who runs it in the past (seems like a nice guy) and they specialize in no-budget horror films people shoot in their back yards for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY budgets (around $10k-$15k)... and they are not only still in business, when a movie is made that cheap, it’s hard not to make money. A baby step higher is The Asylum, who make all of those really bad films you see on SyFy and those knockoffs you see on the Blockbuster shelves with titles like I AM OMEGA and SNAKES ON A TRAIN. These guys used to make films for $100k... with a name in the cast! Now their budgets are a little bit higher (not much) and they have a couple of names... but we are still well below half a million bucks. Again, hard not to make money off a film made for so little. But the problem is - the budgets are getting smaller and smaller and there’s not enough money in the budget to make a living writing something like that... or directing... or anything else.

The canary in the coal mine is falling off its perch.



With studios aiming at some Hasbro toy tentpole crap, and the indie world decimated, and the grindhouse world being $10K wonders and $200k mockbusters, where is the business going? I’m having trouble seeing the future. I was talking to Bill from Pulp 2.0 about the market, and joked that the Mayans got it wrong - cinema is dead *today*. I was talking to Bill by phone, because I skipped AFM completely on Sunday - wasn’t worth driving out there. Bill did drive out there, and said it wasn’t worth it.

I think the Hasbo thing, as much as I hate it, is the future of cinema. Instead of making a movie, we will be making something that can sell as a video game, comic book, webisodes, toys, online entity, and maybe a DVD - but the deal will have to encompass all of those things in order to get the financing to make them. The world of selling ancillary rights to movies is over - the *movie* is the ancillary product, now. Marvel and Hasbro run Hollywood. And as the indie films just die, and the grindhouse films get smaller and smaller, the only future I can see for genre movies is if they evolve the same way studio films are evolving and become part of some larger product... We will look back on Uwe Boll and consider him the cutting edge genius who could see the future - he’s already making bad video game movies.

There is no more cinema, there is only the film version of toys and the film version of comic books.

Welcome to Hollywood. The new Hollywood.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Characters ARE Relationships - and ALIENS meets BLACKHAWK DOWN.
Yesterday's Dinner: Grilled Ham & Swiss on Rye at home.
Bicycle: No... but should have.
Pages: Um, do these count?
London Blog Entries: 42,000 words = 168 typewritten pages. Crap! I should have written a script instead! Or *two*!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Issue Of Script

The new issue of Script Magazine is out now! Sherlock Holmes on the cover. My article is reporting from the Ameriacn Film Market on Worldwide Cool - making sure your script plays globally.

Script to Screen: Precious
When director Lee Daniels first read Sapphire’s novel Push, he immediately wanted to see the story come to life. However, trying to illustrate the abuse the protagonist suffers without earning the movie an NC-17 rating seemed almost impossible. Daniels and scribe Geoffrey Fletcher collaborated on an adaptation that would retain its dramatic impact and become a work of art on the screen.

Nicholas Meyer: The View From the Scribe
Some writers struggle in transitioning from one type of writing to another, but Nicholas Meyer has conquered many forms. Learn Meyer’s cross-format storytelling processes and what encouraged him to write his recent memoir, The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.

Independents: Worldwide Cool
Visual storytelling, clever scenes, cool battles, emotional plot twists, vivid characters—all of these things and more can be found in the Chinese import Red Cliff. So, what can writers learn from this dynamic film about international box-office appeal and about writing across borders?

Small Screen: How I Met Your Mother
The broadcast-network sitcom How I Met Your Mother is enjoying its fifth season of success on CBS, along with a fervent fan following bolstered by interactive Web content. Writer-creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas explain how they combine team writing, nonlinear storytelling, and the best of their favorite shows to create characters we all want to hang out with.

Anything but Elementary: Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson have captivated audiences for more than 100 years. As Lionel Wigram, Michael Robert Johnson, Tony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg pieced together a new story for the famous duo, they balanced the needs of a modern audience with the wit and subversive charm of the source material.

Susie’s Story: The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones touched a chord when it was published seven years ago. The tale of a 14-year-old murder victim examined the complexities of grief and hope. After spending years navigating Middle-earth, Oscar®-winning screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson were ready to explore a less epic, more personal story. Here Walsh and Boyens discuss bringing Sebold’s novel to film.

Writers on Writing: Invictus
After leaving behind his home in South Africa to pursue his screenwriting career, Tony Peckham never thought he would be penning the story of a hero from his past: Nelson Mandela. Invictus’ central challenges were crafting an interesting protagonist when the real-life subject behaved as a saint, and making new the well-worn theme of sports as social politics.

Writer, Edit Thyself!
Reality check: Your final draft is most likely as bad as your first. Unless you’ve made self-editing and heavy revision a priority, you’re nowhere near completing a flawless script. Mystery Man offers advice on how to sculpt your masterpiece while maintaining objectivity and catering to your audience.

Under the Big Top
Equal parts innovator, diplomat, taskmaster and ringleader, the showrunner wears many hats. Responsible perhaps as much as any one person can be for a show, the showrunner must balance creative interests, network interests, and personal conviction—to wide and varied results.

Writers on Writing: The Messenger
Especially during wartime, no civilian can guess what emotions a soldier experiences on a day-to-day basis. Scribe Alessandro Camon tells how he and co-writer Oren Moverman decided to explore the private heartache some soldiers face as part of the “casualty notification” team.

Writers on Writing: The Informant!
Writer Scott Z. Burns delved deep into the journey of Mark Whitacre from federal agent to criminal, but thought it would do more harm than good to talk to Whitacre himself. Read how a bizarre history of crime became a comedy for the big screen ... and even received glowing endorsement from its subject.

- Bill

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

North By Northwest - 50th Anniversary!

The original plan for Monday was to see NORTH BY NORTHWEST on the big screen again as part of the AFI Fest - in celebration of the film's 50th Anniversary.

Think about that for a moment - that film is 50 years old! Hey, 1:30 minutes into the film, the protagonist is kidnaped at gun point and taken to be killed! I love how those old movies took their time to get to the story!

This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films - it's funny and fast paced and exciting.

Here's is a link to... The Birth Of Roger Thornhill.

And here is a link to... The Fridays With Hitchcock Entry For NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

- Bill


Monday, November 02, 2009

Publisher's Weekly Best of 2009 List!

So, yesterday I reviewed my friend Harry's first (published) novel CHILD OF FIRE... and today it was selected by Publisher's Weekly as one of the 5 Best Mass Market Novels of 2009. It's his first novel, and it beat out all of those books at the airport and supermarket and front displays at Barnes & Noble and Borders - those books by big famous best selling writers! (well, beat all but the other 4) (well, it was #4 on the list, so it beat out all but 3).

Big congratulations to Harry! If you read my review below, you know I really liked it and want to see what happens in the next book in the series. But Publisher's Weekly Best of 2009 List? Those guys know what they are talking about, I'm just some screenwriter who prowls used book stores looking for that missing Highsmith book I've never read. This is great news. Here's a link to the list, scroll down to Mass Market...

Publisher's Weekly Best Of 2009 List

The great thing about this is that Harry did not take no for an answer and kept writing, finding a place for his stories... not the big screen as it turned out, but a novel. Well, a series of novels. Well, a series of novels where the first one is one of the 5 Best mass market novels according to Publisher's Weekly.

- Bill
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