Sunday, October 17, 2010

Final Draft Big Break 2010

October is a crazy month for me. Because every horror movie related event takes place in October, and so does Screenwriter’s Expo, and so does the Final Draft Big Break Party, and American Film Market is in the beginning of November... Often I am in London and Honk Kong this month as well, this year I just have a couple of script assignments to work on. October is never long enough!

This year I seem to be overwhelmed by all of these things. My plan was to have one of the assignments rewritten before the Final Draft party for two reasons: The Non-Fango Weekend Of Horrors begins the day after, and there is frequently a great deal of drinking at the Final Draft party, and my brain may not be fully operational for a couple of days afterwards. But I completely failed at that plan, and am still finishing up the rewrite. That creates kind of a domino effect with my other plans, everything getting pushed back... My Big To Do List gets one of those updates where I just change the months I planned to do everything... that was going to be finished in November, but now it will be finished in December. I have changed the months on that list so many times it might have been more simple to just change the years! But without the Big To Do List nothing would ever get To Done.

But October? So far it has been a disaster. One of my classes for Expo was a brand new class that I had only done once, in London last year. But when assembling my class materials at the beginning of the months (way ahead of time), I could not find the scribbled piece of paper written on the plane to London with all of the cool ideas for the class. Must have left them in London along with that 4g thumbdrive that has all of my important stuff backed up on it. I replaced the thumbdrive when I got home last year, but didn’t even notice the class materials missing. So I would have to recreate that class. Also at the beginning of the month I was invited to a film premiere... and the after party where alcohol was served... and that killed a day when I should have been recreating that class, and I missed the first day of the Shriekfest Film Festival. Well, I missed the rest of it, too - working on that class. The following weekend was Expo... and Screamfest began. Screamfest runs for a full week, and is a great horror festival. I had tickets for opening night... but it was the same day as my Expo classes, and I decided to just stick around the Expo hotel instead of fighting traffic. Though Screamfest went for the rest of the week, I had a an assignment to rewrite (a horror script, which may even be at Screamfest next year). My plan was to go to Screamfest any night that I finished my work early... hah! Like that ever happened! Though I did see some movies - friends called and I played hooky on the rewrite a couple of times. So by the time the Big Break Party came around, I was not finished with the rewrite. I will punish myself later, but first...


Oh, I forgot to mention insomnia. I’ve been averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night and was dead tired by the day of the Big Break Party... a zombie. There is always that one day in a run of insomnia where you are so dead tired that you can barely walk and can not think at all - this was that day! The good news is that means my body will just shut down and sleep very soon, the bad news is that I had to go to an event and act like I am awake. I *almost* bailed, but then I would have done almost nothing in October - since I doubted I would make any of the remaining nights of Screamfest, and there’s a good chance I might blow off Fake Fango (which I did). So, off to Beverly Hills I go!

Last year, after they kicked us out of the Paley Center (Big Break venue), we went to Nic’s Martini Bar a couple of blocks away and drank until 2am. They have a walk in freezer there, where you put on a coat and fur hat with ear-flaps and drink Vodka From Around The World by the shot, until your private parts freeze and you must leave the walk in freezer. Last year, Mark from Final Draft was picking up the tab, so I drank many shots of vodka. Many shots. Then, when the bar closed, I had to ride my bike to Hollywood where I picked up the homeless bus over the hill. Balancing was difficult. That is the great thing about drinking on a bicycle - if you have had too much, you can’t really ride. Though, this did not seem to stop me last year. This year, I was too tired for marathon drinking... and I wasn’t on my bike.

Bamboo Killer Emily was my guest for the awards and party (we are not an item, her boyfriend could easily kick my ass).

At the Paley Center, we rode the elevator up with movie star (and Oscar nominee) Robert Forester and his date. Because most people probably recognize him from JACKIE BROWN, I told him how much I liked him in MEDIUM COOL - a great film from the late 60s directed by cinematographer Haskell Wexler. After the elevator ride, Robert was ushered to the red carpet and we went in to find drinks and finger food. Drinks were easy to get (just stand in line), food was more difficult to come by. I never saw any, but heard rumors of it and saw waitpeople with empty trays. Oh, there were sightings of Jeremy Piven, but I never saw him personally. At one point I thought about going out and walking the red carpet, just to see if anyone cared, but it seemed like too much trouble. Talked to Peter Hanson - cowriter/co-director or TALES FROM THE SCRIPT - if you have not seen this movie (or read the book), check it out - it is the *truth* about being a screenwriter. Also talked to Bill Lundy, who used to be Chairman of Scriptwriters Network, and Robin and Max Adams and all of the folks from Script Magazine... including editor Shelly’s Mom, who I have not seen since the first Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference (I think). By then my first beer was almost gone, and they were about to begin the awards ceremony.

Last year, I was at the front of the line to get into the auditorium - when they announced they will be starting in 2 minutes, I figure it’s time to get in line. A prompt man is a lonely man, as they say - but he also gets the best seats. This year I was in the middle of a conversation with Emily and by the time we got in line, the auditorium was full. We had to watch on the monitors as Shelly gave her speech and winners were announced and given their awards and then Mark gave a speech and then gave the Writers Hall Of Fame Award to Aaron Sorkin, who gave the obligatory speech about how he uses Final Draft. I knew Sorkin was going to be there and hoped to bump into him and have a conversation - one of the perqs of being Editor At Large for Script Magazine is that I can probably get past security and handlers and talk to people - but did not see him before they gave him the award and did not see him after they gave him the award... and only saw him get the award on TV. The good news about watching the awards on TV is that you are allowed to drink beverages, so I ordered another beer... but they were all out, so I drank red wine. I was actually feeling better by then. Oh, here are the winners:

First Place: Tejal Desai of Austin, TX for Cowboys and Hindus
Second Place: Mick Connolly of Melbourne, AUSTRALIA FOR CRIMS
Third Place: Larry Brenner of New York, NY for FLESH AND BLOOD

Congratulations to them all! One of the great things about the Final Draft Big Break Awards is that there is *always* at least one winner from outside the USA. The contest really is open to everyone who hasn’t had their big break, yet.

After the awards, they rolled out dessert, and I stood in line to get some mini-cupcakes and puffy cookies and fruit slices. 2 drinks combined with no sleep and I was leaning against the walls to prop myself up. Not the best plan when there are pieces of art from movies on the walls... though I did not destroy any priceless works, I did knock the protective plastic sheet off one. Tried to put it back, and failed. What a lightweight! Talked to more people, and told the story about going to the Ft. Lauderdale Film Fest years ago when Shelly’s daughter was a little baby... and how Sir Richard Attenborough was staying on the same floor of the hotel as the Script Folks, and held Shelly’s baby. It’s strange, he was our friend during the festival - we hung out with him! Of course, I was telling this story because they whisked Sorkin away in a limo and I never got to meet him.


As they were kicking us out of the Paley Center, the rumor went around that Mark had bought out Nic’s Martini Lounge again, and we would be going over there. Last year it was easy - my bike was locked in front of the Paley Center and I just followed he crowd. This year - vehicle in the Paley’s garage, and the garage was closing for the night. After it was re-parked, the crowd was gone... and where was Nic’s? Emily and I wandered around looking for it, bumped into Robin on her scooter who was also looking for it, but said that Max Adams had gone with a group to the Beverly Wilshire’s cocktail lounge... so that’s where we went. Later, I mapquested Nic’s - we were standing a block away.

Max had a contest - win a date with Max to the Nicholl Awards, and the runner up won a date to the Big Break awards. I should have had a contest. She was in the BevWil with the tall guy who won, and two other guys, and Emily and Robin and me. We had some expensive drinks as Max held court and told tales of script meeting disasters (writer horror stories). It was Max’s date’s birthday, so they were buying him shots - many of them - and everyone was getting toasted. I milked my one Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, still a lack-of-sleep lightweight.

Kind of wished I was at Nic’s, because all of the VIPs would be there (except Sorkin) and there might have been an agent or manager there I could casually pitch my new script to. I had a pocket full of business cards and hadn’t given out a single one! The reason why I go to these things is to make some connections that could further my career - and drink free booze and eat free food. Max’s horror stories were fun, but I have a bunch of new specs that *no one* has read. Would be nice to get one read by someone who could help me get it to the screen...

Eventually, it was time to split (leaving Max and some of the others to continue the tequila shots) and get back to the valley. I have a script to rewrite... and Friday begins the Fake Fango Convention in Burbank... which I have ended up slipping. The next night I slept hard, woke up groggy but feeling much better.

Congratulations again to the winners, hope this launches a long career... so that you can tell amusing horror stories about it in the BevWil bar sometime in the future!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Cut The Wandering - and that scene from FARGO, you know the one.
Dinner: Denny's chipotle chicken breast.
Pages: This blog entry, so that I can get back to work in the rewrite tomorrow.
Bicycle: Short ride - in damp weather.
Movies: RED - Killer cast, killer concept... lame execution.

One of the problems I see more and more often are films where it seems as if they thought they could get by with the premise and trailer based around that premise and a good cast. I don’t know whether it’s a script that goes through so many rewrites that what they end up shooting is a first draft, or if there’s a new generation of development executives that don’t care, or maybe aren’t educated enough to know that the script they think is ready to shoot is really a rough draft. I suspect the reason why the direction is so crappy on many films is that the directors come from adverts or videos and really don’t know how to tell a story visually or work with actors.

Whatever the reason, we end up with a bunch of crap-action and crap-horror and crap-other-genre movies that make me long for the competency of an H. Bruce Humberstone or John Farrow behind the camera and one of those B movie geniuses like John Latimer or Steve Fisher writing the script. It’s funny that Hollywood used to turn out *better* B movies back in the day when they were grinding them out like sausages and a director might be making a film every other month. Today, we have these films like RED and last year’s TO PARIS WITH LOVE, that have big name stars in movies that look like they were slapped together at the last minute. PARIS was strange, because it was really well written (the protagonist has real emotional issues and a real character arc, it was funny, and the action scenes were character related), but directed all wrong. The action scenes were boring in that film, and all of the character-related elements were practically removed. It’s strange to see traces of a really good script in a really not good movie... but RED can’t even boast traces of a good script! (Unless the director *really* screwed it up!)

I have no idea how faithful the script is to the graphic novel, but it’s positively lethargic. It ambles along from scene to scene without anything driving it, even though our protags are targeted for murder. There is no feeling of immediacy to any of it. They go from place to place as if that’s what the script says to do, but none of it seems motivated by the story or the characters. Just, “We should go see what crazy John Malkovich is up to!” and they go there and there are some crazy scenes, and then they go to the next place. The script has basic structure problems.

And in a film like this the dialogue needs to be breezy and clever, but here it’s leaden and dull. There are a couple of funny lines, but compare any 10 minutes of 48 HOURS dialogue to the whole danged film of RED. It's a script that thinks it is more clever than it really is. 95% of the dialogue is perfunctory and 5% is funny... and that's not a good split for a script that goes into production. Where is the banter? Where are those amazing witty lines? Okay, think about how bad that dialogue would have been *without* this cast of great actors! Morgan Freeman can read a damned phone book and make it sound dramatic. Here, his lines are kind of blah. Hey - if the dialogue isn’t witty, you can hire someone to fix it... but *please*, hire them before you shoot the film!

Even though there are past relationships in the script, and actors like Helen Mirren and Brian Cox make them seem real, when you look at what they have to work with it often seems like a sketch of a relationship. Some of the relationships just don’t work - and none are really tested by the story. So the characters often come off as a bag-o-quirks, but not a real person. You may not think a film like this needs real characters, but *all* films need real characters - look at AIRPLANE if you don’t believe me. The film is a parody, but Ted Stryker has real emotional issues he is struggling with, and they may be played for laughs - but he is struggling with them like a character in a dead serious Oscar nominated drama would. In RED, everything seems sketchy and surface, including the characters... and it’s supposed to be “real” rather than parody!

But the biggest problem is probably direction - the tone is all over the place. It’s as if the director thinks “comedy” means “farce” - so everything is over the top wacky when it should just be standard 48 HOURS / LETHAL WEAPON action-comedy. And the action? This director doesn’t have a clue - all of the action scenes are boring. No reversals, no character, just endless shooting. That gets old fast. The best action moment is stolen from the movie HOPSCOTCH - I mean, lifted almost exactly from that film! The problem is, directing action is an *art*, and if the director doesn’t know how to direct an action scene maybe they should be directing another movie? Everyone has a skill set, and should be hired due to their abilities. Hey, you can expand your skill-set by learning and practicing - but hiring some guy who doesn’t have a clue how to direct an action scene to make an action movie is a bad idea. Seriously - hire Rick Jacobson or someone instead. Action scenes should not be boring.

And talk about clumsy direction: there is a plot twist in the film (no spoilers) where a character we thought was no longer part of the story comes back as a major player... and instead of a cool reveal, the character is just in the shot. It was shot as it it wasn’t a twist at all, just another event in the story. And that’s the problem with bad direction - it’s just a bunch of shots that aren’t trying to tell a story. Blanding the whole film instead of making it more exciting.

RED has a great idea, an amazing cast... but thinks that’s all it needs to be a movie. Hey, you still need a well executed screenplay and a director who isn’t just trying to do cool shit that undermines the story. The cast makes it enjoyable, but it could have been so much more.

- Bill

1 comment:

ObiDonWan said...

Agreed on RED. I 'enjoyed' it but it didn't move me, and damned if I understood the big payoff scene. Helen Mirren is deadly with any weapons.

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