Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lancelot Link: Book 2

Lancelot Link Thursday! Halloween is just around the corner - Saturday we begin the 13 Days Of Halloween on the blog. Here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are five cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Looper demo reel.

2) Short that lead to IN BRUGES.

3) The PROMETHIUS that never was.

4) ARGO screenwriter Chris Terrio interviewed.

5) The Brown List.

And the Car Chase Of The Week...

- Bill

Monday, October 15, 2012

Raindance: THE ASCENT

There is always one film in every fest that is cinematography porn: one amazing shot after another. This year that film was a thriller from Slovenia called THE ASCENT about a novelist with severe writer’s block due to all of the distractions in the city... whose editor owns some rural property which includes a really remote sheep ranch and the old village - before all but one family moved away. Plenty of room, nothing to do there - the writer decides to go there and finish his novel.

But once he gets there - he discovers that the locals aren’t like you and me. They are just as remote as the desolate and mostly abandoned village. They have odd customs. They are not friendly at all. And they *hate* city people. The family consists of an ultra-stern father, his overly intense son and his wife... and the mute and weird sister (who would be hot if she weren’t dressed for doing farm chores. Because these people are less than friendly, the writer begins spying on them to get an idea of what their lives are like... and what he sees is *weird*. They slaughter an entire flock of sheep - and bury them. No wool or meat from the dead sheep - and the sheep killing seems almost like a pagan ritual.  They have taken down all of the pictures and mirrors from inside the house, making it difficult for the writer to shave (the stern father and son have beards). Everything the writer does irritates them, and no matter how hard he tries to be nice to them - it always seems to backfire.

After he saves the epileptic daughter’s life when she has a seizure, the stern father softens a bit - explaining that he’s been testy since an illness hit most of his sheep and they were forced to kill the flock to prevent it from spreading... and asks the writer if he would read them a story from a book (none of them knows how to read) - the only book in the house is a Bible... and they have no idea what it is. They seem to either have no religion or some basic form of worshiping the earth...

But when the writer reads the story of Jesus, it brings religion to them in both good and bad ways.... with horrifying results. This film was so well shot that every frame was like a postcard. A beautiful film that creeped me out and built a great deal of tension.

- Bill

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Very disturbing thriller-drama, and the great thing about a Film Fest is that the filmmakers were there after the showing to explain the genesis of the project. The original script was a standard coming of age story about two boys, and the director decided it might be interesting to subvert that genre by adding some adults to corrupt them. The result is a very creepy movie.

New Years Eve - two 12 year old boys are sleeding and watching fireworks and talking about girls and trying to figure out how sex might work (though, it sounds unlikely to one of the kids - a boy puts his thing *there*? Is sex about peeing?) When a pair of men and an attractive woman approach them and ask if they will run an errand for them. The attractive woman does the asking - will they go to the corner pub/liquor store and buy a liter of vodka? When the boys say they are too young, she asks one his mother’s name, then write a note from his mom saying she is buying the vodka for her. Then she gives the boys her apartment number and some money and walks away with the two men.

The two boys find they can’t buy the vodka with the note, but find a man who will buy for them as long as he gets a couple of drinks out of it. The two boys go back to the apartment and the attractive woman invites them inside. The boys think they might see some boobie and stick around. They kind of get more than they bargained for - the husband of the attractive woman wants her to sleep with his pal - and she’s not that interested... but maybe if she is drunk enough? One of the boys chugs a glass of vodka - and then begins projectile vomiting. Now the two kids are forced to stay - while the boy’s clothes are washed. As the adults play their games - the tension rises because there are two *kids* present. Oh, did I mention that the husband’s pal is a little crazy and torched a house not so long ago? And that they play the music so loud that a policeman comes... and the attractive woman invites him to stay for coffee even though they have basically kidnaped the two boys and there are all kinds of kinky sex games going on just under the surface?

A lot of tension is built, but the next morning the two boys are sent back to their mothers and the adults go on with their twisted lives. Parts of this film reminded me of a Curtis Harrington film called GAMES with a very young James Caan who plays mind games with his wife Katherine Ross... and when they add a strange neighbor Simon Signoret, the games may include murder. In NIGHT TOO YOUNG there is no murder - but no shortage of games that may turn violent at any moment. The two boys have a life altering event... but not in the usual coming of age movie way.

- Bill


One of the things that I love is when people I know make films that end up at festivals that invite me. I’ve known Jen Westcott online for years - she’s a screenwriter who has won some awards and had some scripts optioned and is right on the cusp of making it in the biz... but she decided not to wait for Hollywood to knock on her door, and with her sister put together a Kickstarter campaign and made their own damned film. At it played at Raindance! And Jen and her sister flew over to see the film on the big screen!

The genesis of the film was Dov Simons course on making your own movie and his advice to put a bunch of teenagers in a house and have a maniac chop them up.  Jen & Vic didn’t want to chop people up... but what else could they do with teenagers in a house? Jen came up with garage bands - and being trapped in the garage... and the story was born. So a garage band that is breaking up for all kinds of personal reasons ends up trapped in the garage when the power is cut and nobody knows how to open the automatic garage door manually.

The film is kind of BREAKFAST CLUBish - with a well drawn group of very different kids trapped in the garage together, forced to hash out all of their problems while waiting to be rescued. Of course, one has a couple of blunts in his pocket and even the square kids partake. There are also no shortage of bathroom jokes - as the only toilet they have is an empty can and the only privacy is a pup tent in storage. In fact, the garage as a location is a bit of genius as you find all sorts of interesting things to play with in storage - from stale Halloween candies to tools they might use to try and escape.

The various conflicts that need to be hashed out include Lead Singer Scott who has quit the group after spying his girlfriend fooling around with Lead Guitarist Richie, he’s shown up with his new girlfriend - enemy of everyone - in order to pick up his guitar on the way to an interview with a Business College.  Wacky drummer Schinder (source of the blunts) who has some new songs he’s written (and his songs suck - also he wants to change the band’s genre every week and lots of laughs come from his different costumes for each music genre), the Bass Player who has a twin brother who is in the Canadian version of ROTC and is ultra-strict, and Meadow the punk-goth girl who hates everything and everyone and has a sarcastic zinger for everything (I fell in love with her and you will, too), and new singer Abby who is the rich girl whose mother accused Meadow’s maid mom of stealing jewelry, got her fired, and ruined Meadow’s life. Two other characters are *outside* the garage and provide some laughs, Richie’s sister Lizzie who is a spelling bee champ, and Mr. Kaminski the old guy across the street who can not hear their cries for help because he’s vacuuming his driveway.

The film is lots of fun, but because there is no power we get almost no music - and when I first sat down in the cinema waiting to see a film about a garage band, I expected lots of music... and the location wears out its welcome a little too early.  We *do* get great background music - and here’s a stroke of genius on the part of the filmmakers: they went online and got songs from hundreds of unsigned garage bands all over the world, then selected the best songs for their sound track. Now one of the ways they are promoting the film is to take it the towns of each garage band on the sound track and do a screening with the band playing before and after. Because they were in London, we had the local garage band Van Susans on their soundtrack playing after the screening (and at Waxy’s Pub before the screening). It was a great experience - how many times does a garage band have a violin?

After the band’s music ended we retired to a local bar where Raindance had bought out the private downstairs section for a party that began in the afternoon and kept going until they kicked us out. I talked with Jen and Vic about the film, and how they reached that point where they decided to just make the movie and not wait for Hollywood to call. I think this is the big message from Raindance this year - if you are getting meetings and nibbles and it’s obvious that you are on the cusp... no reason to wait. Make the movie you want to make.

- Bill

Monday, October 08, 2012

Raindance: INDEBTED

From Finland - a crime drama about two women who could not be more different: a broke college student who is struggling to pay her bills, and a *tough* mob leg breaker who is sent in to collect debts. If Sam Fuller had written and directed Bergman’s PERSONA it might be this film!

Ellie (Heidi Linden) is a broke college girl who can’t even afford her own beers after class, and depends on the kindness of her friends. When the bills pile up she reluctantly pawns her grandmother’s necklace - a family heirloom - and now has two months to make enough money to buy it back. But there is no way that she can keep up with her bills *and* make enough money to buy back the necklace... Until she meets a businessman in a bar who likes her, and she goes home with him and has sex... and the next morning as she is doing the walk of shame she finds $300 in her purse. A gift? Later when another businessman hits on her in a bar, she says it will cost him $150... and he says yes. Next thing you know, she’s earning enough money to pay off her bills sleeping with businessmen. This is not who she thinks she is... a tear in her identity. She still thinks of herself as a struggling college student, even though she can now buy designer shoes.

Meanwhile, in the back room of that pawnshop a different kind of loan business - the mob’s loanshark enforcers lead by badass female leg-breaker Iris (Kristina Puukko) and her team prepare to collect money... one way or another.  You may be imagining that Iris is some big butch woman - but she buys her T shirts in the petite section. But that doesn’t stop her from being crazy violent. Her team of strong men are afraid of her - she has a knife and will slice you open for looking at her funny. In a series of scenes we see her and the team beat the crap out of people behind on their payments... and eventually run into a debtor who has hired a bunch of huge bodyguards. Even though she gets stabbed, she makes sure all of the huge bodyguards have several broken bones and that they collect the money from the debtor. Iris’ wound is sewn up by Andrei (Juha Arola) - and she lowers her guard and puts her knife away long enough to make love with him. This is a badass babe who becomes vulnerable for a moment... and it frightens her. This is not who she thinks she is... a tear in her identity.

When Andrei sees Ellie in the pawnshop and then later in a bar, he starts a romantic relationship with her - and connects the two women in an unexpected way. When Iris discovers the relationship, she finds herself jealous... not used to having someone take what she thinks is hers. Eventually the two women are brought together in some very violent ways - and end up forced to work together when the mob that Iris works for comes after her and she has no place to hide but with Ellie.

The director Marton Jelinko does an amazing job of linking scenes of each woman with the other - one of the things I often stress in Script Tips and articles is *story flow*, how one scene leads logically to the next. In the portion of the film before the two women’s lives intersect, Jelinko brilliantly links the women visually - cutting from one woman looking out a window over the city at night to the other woman in a similar position looking over the city at night. You are never confused and the story never has the stop-and-start feeling that are major flaws in some big budget studio films like SYRIANA. Even before the two women share a scene - they share the *story* visually. Like Bergman’s PERSONA we see how these two very different women’s lives are on a collision course both physically and emotionally. For a first film made for no money, this is an amazing little thriller.

INDEBTED is a film that grows on you - it begins as an indie style drama and as each of the women cross a line they never thought they would have to cross becomes darker and darker until it becomes a full fledged thriller where the characters are forced to deal with one intense and violent situation after another. After seeing the film I liked it... but days later I was still thinking about it. The characters and situations are both realistic and brutal, and you realize these things might happen to you or someone you know... if they owe money to the wrong people.

I believe the actress who plays Iris is probably a romantic lead in most films - she’s playing way against type - but gives a chilling performance in a role usually given to men. Gritty, edgy, and dark - a movie about women in completely non-traditional roles.

PS: And the winner is...  INDEBTED for Best Debut Feature! This was one of my two juries, and my #1 pick, so I’m very happy that it won. And when it was time to hand out the Award on Saturday night, it was my pleasure to open the envelope, read the winning film’s title, and hand the award to the filmmakers. Well deserved! I hope this film gets some form of distribution in the US, because it’s the kind of movie they don’t make here. Congratulations again to the filmmakers!

- Bill


Another Kickstarter campaign movie, made in Los Angeles by some members of The Groundlings Improv Troop... and funny every single scene is filled with things that will make you laugh.

Neal (Kenny Stevenson) is having a very bad day - he comes home early and finds his wife having sex with his best friend, goes to work and gets chewed out by his boss... so he quits, leaves his car in the company parking lot, and walks across Los Angeles to get back to his apartment...

He spends his days sleeping on his sofa in his underpants feeling sorry for himself. His two other best friends and his wacky next door neighbor come up with a plan to get him back up on his feet - the Craig’s List “Missed Connections” ads where people post things like: “You were driving down the 405 freeway Monday at 2pm in your black Porsche, I’m the blonde girl you passed near the Getty Offramp in the green Hyndai. Call me!”  Their scheme is to respond to the ads and set a meet, then when the guy in the bllack Porsche doesn’t show and the blonde girl gets tired of waiting, Neal comes over and says “I would never have stood you up” and gets them on the rebound for a night of casual sex. And this *works*! Neal is having all kinds of sex with all kinds of women and beginning to get over his heartbreak... when he is “stood up” several times when the missed connections girl doesn’t show... but the same woman is always near the meet location spying. Who is she?

Jane (Dorien Davies) who has also had her heart broken and is posting *fake* missed connection ads in order to stand up random men to get revenge on the times that she has been stood up! When Neal finally confronts her it’s hate at first sight... and the war begins.

The great thing about casting a bunch of comedians is that they not only have amazing delivery of written lines, they may actually come up with a variation on the written line that is funnier still. Every single character - no matter how small - has funny lines, so there is always something to laugh at... and an amusing and memorable character. Neal’s brother-in-law is only in a couple of scenes - but makes a great impression!

MISSED CONNECTIONS is consistently funny - and a rom-com that I haven’t seen before. When the war begins it’s as if the Road Runner and Wylie Coyote were in a rom-com! The characters and situations and dialogue are great - and for a film shot on a *very* low budget it looks like a big Hollywood movie. This deserves a release in the USA. My fear is that they will do that buy it, shelve it, and remake it thing that often results in the watered down and not as funny studio version... just with big stars. One of the reasons why MISSED CONNECTIONS works is that the actors are all *comedians* and funnier than Jennifer Aniston and whoever they might cast in the male lead.

An Excerpt From "Missed Connections" from Eric Kissack on Vimeo.

AFTERWARDS: I did the Q&A with the two leads Kenny and Dorien, who are actually husband and wife, and the producer Lisa Rudin and asked about using Kickstarter and crowd funding in general and how you get that many amazing Los Angeles locations with no money. Also how you find all of these funny people to play small roles. And doing it yourself as a way to make the film *you* want to make instead of waiting for Hollywood to come knocking at your door. As usual, the lesson in all of this is - JUST DO IT!

- Bill

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Raindance Winners

Tonight they had the award ceremony at the Raindance Film Fest in London and I got to announce and then hand out the award for Best Debut Feature (I was on that jury and one other), so here are the winners...





BEST DEBUT FEATURE - INDEBTED. (my jury - and one of my favorites at the fest... a no budget thriller from Finland that is as if Sam Fuller directed Bergman's PERSONA. I presented this award, and it was cool to give the award to one of my favorites from the fest.)



BEST FEATURE OF THE FEST - HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SHERMANN SONG (my favorite film at the fest - a kickstarter funded musical that is amazing! After the awards I went to dinner with the filmmakers and I'm not sure it had sunk in, yet that *they won*. This film plays Nov 1 in NYC at the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas @ 7:30... see it!).

Didn't win anything because it wasn't in competition but still amazing: LOVELESS ZORITSA, a Tim Burtonesque rom-com about a woman with a curse - any many who falls in love with her dies in some oddball FINAL DESTINATION way. Love this film! 

I fly back to LA on Tuesday... hope to get a bunch more reviews up before then!

- Bill

Thursday, October 04, 2012


A gem!  LOVELESS ZORITSA is a dark comedy that’s a combination rom-com and FINAL DESTINATION movie about an attractive young woman cursed: any man who falls in love with her will die a terrible death. Her childhood sweetheart is walking with her along a lakeside cliff when a seagull poops in his mouth and he loses balance while trying to spit the poop out and falls into the lake and drowns. A rock guitarist is electrocuted in a freak accident. Another man has a giant rock fall from the sky and squash him. Zoritsa is trying to lift the curse - since it gets in the way of her lovelife when every man who is interested in her dies.

Oh, the reason for the curse - she is the first women in her family born without a mustache! The family portraits on the walls of her house are a riot, and the ghost of her Grandmother plays a role in the film - bringing a laugh every time you see her *massive* mustache.

Zoritsa is told by a fortune teller that if she burns the grave of her first love/victim the curse will be lifted - so she goes back to her home town (where she was banned due to the body count) to burn the grave... This is the best *shot* film I have seen in a hell of a long time - it has amazing lighting (like a 40s technicolor movie) and luxurious dolly shots. The production value is *higher* than most current Hollywood films, amazing for a Serbian film. The graveyard scene is amazing - stylized and creepy, like something from a Tim Burton film... in fact, that’s what this reminded me of: Tim Burton.

As men around Zoritsa drop like flies, a small town cop who was original trying to capture her ends up on the run with her when the villagers chase them with the typical pitchforks and torches that villagers have in FRANKENSTEIN movies. The film features a funny tractor vs. Vespa chase, lots of fun scenes... and the more time the small town cop and Zoritsa spend together the more he falls in love with her... and now he wants her to lift her curse before it’s too late!  A really original romantic comedy mixed with elements from Universal horror films and beautiful Tim Burton style production design and cinematography.

This is the kind of gem you discover at film fests that makes going worthwhile. If I were a studio executive I would just give these people money to make movies and let them do whatever they wanted - because LOVELESS ZORITSA is a great entertaining movie with a completely different way of seeing the world... a film that will satisfy both arthouse audiences *and* mainstream cinemagoers. One of my two favorite films from Raindance so far (along with HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SHERMANN SONG?).

- Bill

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


One of the things I love about film fests is seeing movies from other countries that give us a look at their culture - but in an easy to digest manner. The boring dramas that make you nod off due to jet lag don’t usually work for me, but a genre film can keep me awake through entertainment - but still take me into another world and make its point.

STATE OF SHOCK is Rip Van Winkle in what used to be Yugoslavia. In Communist Yugoslavia Peter and his wife Marica are poor but happy - living in a very very small apartment with two children and dreaming of saving up enough to buy a washing machine. Both work full time, but have learned to enjoy their jobs. Peter is a factory worker who carpools to work with his best friend Jovo every day. Though Jovo is a bit of a screw up - he can always work slower, Peter is a happy hard working employee (hoping that the factory manager will recommend him to the Local Party Official to move up to a larger apartment). On Labor Day, the factory is closed - but open later for a celebration where the Local Party Official will award the Factory Worker Of The Year Award. When Peter is chosen for the award, and the prize - a huge apartment - he faints... and goes into a coma for a decade.

When he awakens, Communism has fallen, Yugoslavia is no more (he now lives in a county called Slovenia) no one is a “comrade” and capitalism is king. Oh, and his wife has divorced him and married Jovo - and they live in the huge apartment *he* was awarded ten years ago. Nothing is the same. The factory he used to work in is now robotized and computerized - his job no longer exists... but the *company* (now run by the Local Party Official) offers him $1,000 for every year he was in a coma. But Peter doesn’t even understand money in this new world.

The film is great fun - and the lead actor (Martin Marion) reminded me of Peter Sellers as he stumbles through this new consumer oriented world - seeing it through his old communist ideals. Lots off laughs... but the underlying point soon becomes clear - they may now be able to buy designer shoes, but everyone is so money oriented that they have lost the ability to just be happy. People don’t have time to love. It’s very much a “simple things in life” type movie - but the great device of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe creates hundreds of small things that have changed big time. A charming film - really liked it.

- Bill

Raindance: Student Films


So, my Facebook friend’s film is playing in a program of Raindance Student’s films at just after noon - and I easily make it on time with enough coffee to be fully functional... even though I’d only managed to sleep for 4 hours the night before. I always worry about student films because... well, they are often learning experiences but not great as films. This leads to that awkward moment where you are asked what you thought of the film, and you stumble around trying to find something nice to say. I sat through all of the student films - and most of them had problems. But when my Facebook friend’s film came on - it was the best of the lot. And really good!

The problems with the other films:

1) The first film was unbelievable long for a short. I would guess at least a half hour, though it seemed much much longer because it was mostly two people sitting in chairs with a pile of exposition dialogue about things that happened to them in the past. The situation was good - but the execution was not. The first rule of short films: they need to be short. In the past Raindance has hosted the Nokia 15 *second* short festival, and those films were always really good - or at least, over before you were bored. But I think ten minutes is a good maximum length for short films because they are easier for a festival to program, and at ten minutes even if they are not good they are at least over soon. But also ten minutes means you have to cut the fat and get to the heart of the story. This improves the film because you have to know *exactly* what the story is about and then get to the point right away. If you only have ten minutes, your story ends up more focused - in fact, those 15 second films were often full stories so well focused that they didn't even take a full minute to tell.  

2) A few of the other films were well shot, but didn't communicate the story to the audience. They showed things happening without bringing us *inside* the story so that we understood what was happening. The result was an external, uninvolving, unemotional, and basically lifeless and false story. Mechanical. The filmmaker’s primary job is to communicate with the audience - and these films did not communicate.

In the middle of this program of films that didn't quite work were two films that worked well - a musical about killing people with hammers that was only a couple of minutes long and SILENT KILLER, my Facebook friend's film. It opened with an attractive young woman sitting on a park bench and a young man sitting on the same bench and chatting her up. Her voice over tells us that he thinks he’s going to romance her, but what he doesn’t know is that he will be her next victim: she is going to shoot him. She pulls out a huge gun, aims it at the young man... who seems to wet himself... and pulls the trigger. BANG! Cut to about an hour earlier - the young woman realizes the young man is following her, tries to lose him a few times - then begins to lure him to her killing ground. The interesting element is that the young man is deaf, and the young woman can speak in sign language - so when they end up on the bench together the conversation is all done with their hands. But now we know the ending - the young man who probably followed this young woman because she was attractive is soon to become her prey. This builds suspense. The end twist - sorry, spoilers - is that when she pulls the gun it is a water pistol, and she shoots his crotch (he doesn’t wet himself - she wets him) and then she hands him a card that says he’s been “killed” by the Silent Killer - and this is one of those assassination games. The further twist is that she likes him and might look him up later.  The story brought us in, we understand what we *think* is going on, and then the story twists at the end.

Even if the story is a mystery where we don’t know what is going on, if you bring us inside the story so that we understand the protagonist and live the story though them, we are being lead into the story and understand the mystery... even though we don’t know the resolution (obviously). A detective type character doesn’t know who the killer is, but they understand the situation and are searching for the solution. But we need to be inside that story and understand the situation - even though we won’t know the outcome. That’s what SILENT KILLER did right and many of the others did not.

So I don’t have to lie to my Facebook friend.

- Bill

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Once again I am way behind on my Raindance Film Fest reviews!

The good news is that many are half written - so I just need to write the other halves!

My sleep is messed up - it seems like every other day my body wonders why I would want to sleep at 4 in the afternoon... and last night I managed to close a bar after telling Rory (from Raindance) that I would just pop in for a quick drink because I needed to catch up on my sleep. Right.

But the reviews *are* coming!

- Bill
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