Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lancelot Link & Robin

Lancelot Link Thursday! It's still April and Movie Summer is about to begin! 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 seven cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Shane Black on IRON MAN 3 and Christmas.

2) Screenwriter Max Landis Interview:

3) Brian Helgeland On The N Word In 42.

4) Ten Documentaries Every Screenwriter Needs To See!

5) Was The Idea For PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 Stolen?

6) Ten Best Screenwriters?

7) Tomorrow NUMBERS STATION opens in limited release in the USA, written by a guy I know from online, Scott Frazier. This film needs your support, so if it's showing near you and the trailer looks interesting, check it out:

And this week's car chase...

I own this film on DVD... and wish I did not.

- Bill

Monday, April 22, 2013

Optimistic Disappointment

Another old blog entry re-run... from 2008.

Tuesday I ran the Romeo-to-Rambo Script Tip, which is always good for a few messages and some spirited debate. The responses are always: "Why are you so pessimistic?" "Why would anyone want to be a screenwriter if your stuff is just going to get screwed up?" "Why do they always screw stuff up?" "How can I make sure they don't change a single word of my script?" and "How often can Bill name drop in a single blog entry?"

First - no matter who you are, no matter how many Oscars you have on your mantle, no matter how many #1 hit movies you'd written... you will be rewritten. It's just the way the business works. Hollywood goes through screewriters the way screenwriters go through toner cartridges. They are constantly replacing them. Not for any logical reason - the excuse you hear is often "We think you've given it your best shot, but it's time to move on" or "We're thinking about taking it in a new direction, and need a new screenwriter to take it there" or "We've used all of your contracted rewrites." Love him or hate him, when Joe Eszterhas was the top screenwriter in Hollywood, they paid him $3 million for BASIC INSTINCT... then fired him the next day and brought in another writer. That was the most anyone had ever paid for a screenplay, so you'd think they must have liked it; but replacing writers is business as usual in Hollywood. One of the amusing things about this business is that sometimes - after a parade of writers has ruined your screenplay - sometimes they hire you back to rewrite whatever mess they ended up with. Of course, you aren't rewriting your *original* script, you're rewriting the crappy messed up rewritten by an army of damned dirty apes version.

And often you are the one who ruins your script. They own it, and if your contract includes 2 rewrites and a polish (as mine always do) they will order you to make all kinds of stupid changes. When you and I think of rewrites, we think of *improving* our screenplays, but producers think rewrites are to *change* your script. Change it completely. Change the genre, the protagonist, the arena, the locations... hey, can they be cowboys? As Joe Gillis says in SUNSET BLVD. "The last one I wrote was about Okies in the dust bowl. You'd never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat." You know, a writer wrote that line.

Even if you fund the film yourself (so that you’re the boss) things will get changed by the time they hit the screen. As directors will tell you, film is a director’s medium... so whatever weird idea the director comes up with goes in the film. And you can’t sell a film without a star - which gives the star all kinds of power over the film. On one of my movies the actor (who was being paid a cool million) decided that his character should recite some poetry in the film, to show his sensitive side. And he *must* wear his lucky leather jacket - even though it didn’t fit the character he was playing at all. You know what the answer to that was? Change the character! Plus, there were some things he wanted in the story that made no sense - but without this guy there was no movie. So I did the rewrites... hating every minute of it. I’ve had directors who had me change *researched facts* to be what the director thought was true. And this blog’s name comes from a really silly note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE - they wanted a sex scene in a film that takes place on a submarine manned by 110 *men*. No women allowed. “A *gay* sex scene?” I asked. “No! No! With a woman!” (Today they’d *want* the gay sex scene.) “How do I get a woman on the submarine?” “You’re the writer - be creative!” Next thing you know, there’s some hot woman having wild monkey sex on a submarine for no apparent reason.

Even if you were the director, star, producer, writer, prop guy and everything else; you need to bend the script to fit the locations and shooting schedule - and that often means major changes. Things go wrong on every movie... and that means you’ll need to make changes on the fly to get things back on track. It rains, so that big outdoor scene now takes place in the warehouse where you store your equipment. When you make a film there are hundreds of people involved and hundreds of things that can go wrong. Everything seems to be conspiring against you. You never really get your vision up in screen. You have to compromise with real life and hope what ends up on screen is close to what you wrote.

I was at Frank Darabont's house once, and across from his desk he had a bookcase filled with his own scripts. I thought that was kind of odd (and maybe a little vain), so I asked him about it. He told me those were *his* screenplays the way *he wrote them*. I liked that idea so much, I now have a bookcase in my office with *my* scripts the way I wrote them. You know, I wonder what Frank's Indiana Jones was like? (Actually, I think I have the PDF in my “to read” pile along with INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (hey - spellcheck flagged that!)

The only thing we control is our scripts... so we have to be happy with what's on the page, not what ended up on the screen. If it's all about what ended up on the screen, it's a lifetime of heartbreak...

Which is why a screenwriter needs to be optimistic. You must have hope that some day you will end up with the right combination of director and actors and producers who all want to make the script you've written. Usually everyone wants to make a different story, and the whole thing goes to hell.

I’ve had a couple of films that got close to what I wanted. HARD EVIDENCE is probably closest to what I wrote (although the rewrites for location had the horrors of spending your life in a Canadian prison *instead of* a Mexican prison and much more sex than the spec script had), and it’s also my most financially successful films. You’d think that would be a compelling reason not to completely screw up my scripts - but Hollywood is all about changing a silk purse into a sow’s ear. On CYBERZONE the director and I were on the same page - but it was not a page that lead to Oscar nominations. The producer wanted a film about robot hookers from outer space... so that’s what we made. The director and I were both making the same movie - a comedy - but the distrib wanted a *serious* movie about robot hookers from outer space. So the jokes were cut out as well as some of the character stuff and we ended up with a silly movie instead of a funny one... but most of what I wrote is still there on screen, though. It’s a miracle.

And on every film (except CROOKED) something I wrote ends uo on screen. Usually a handful of scenes in each film remain more or less intact - and I can be happy about them. I used to *hate* BLACK THUNDER and CRASH DIVE, but both films have grown on me. The parts that I wrote now overshadow the parts that got messed up on the way to the screen. And I’m always hoping that the next script makes it to the screen the way I wrote it... or maybe even *better* - I would really love to work with a director with a vision and a cast with real talent who make *positive* contributions to the film. I don’t mind changes that improve the script - I *welcome them*. I have had some *good* notes on scripts in the past - and would love to get more of those! It’s the silly ones that change the script into crap I could live without. Every new script sale is another chance to have a great movie made!

I was on a panel once with Robert Roy Pool who wrote the spec script that became ARMAGEDDON a couple of years ago. His original script was about a guy in the government whose job was to write reports about reports. He'd read dozens of reports and condense them into a paragraph each for the Presidential briefing. He came across a bunch of different things in different reports that seemed to be connected - the most amusing one was an Indian tribe that wanted to move their reservation because their shaman had forseen a giant asteroid hitting Earth where their reservation was now. He discovers that there really is a giant asteroid heading toward Earth, but the government covers it up. So he goes about grabbing his estranged wife and everyone he loves and finding a safe place for them - some caverns he knows about from reading reports. They find safety... and the asteroid strikes. Okay, about a dozen writers were hired - one after another - to change that into ARMAGEDDON. One of the things that *every* writer hated was the scene where the Mir space station blows up for no reason. Now, some of these writers were being paid huge amounts of money to do these rewrites - there were Oscar winners - and every single one of them *lost* the argument and had to have the Mir space station blow up for no reason. The film is *nothing* like Robert's original script, and I don't think any of those dozen rewriters liked it much.

But Robert and none of those writers quit the business because the script was ruined by bad notes... instead, they went on to write other things. Because every script is a chance to have it all come together (by some miracle) or maybe just get pretty close. Good films *do* get made. Great films *do* get made. Sometimes it all comes together. You just have to have faith that it will happen sometime... and until then, you still have that bookshelf of scripts the way you wrote them.

You have to be optimistic in this business. You have to believe that the next script will end up on screen even better than the way you wrote it - that the producer and director and cast will come up with some amazing ideas that you never thought of and turn a great script into a completely fantastic amazing script. And even if that deal doesn’t work out and results in another disappointment... there’s the deal after that!

Somewhere down there, there’s a pony!

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Subway Black Forest Ham.
Bicycle: Sunday they closed off some major streets in downtown LA so that cyclists could ride from downtown to the sea... but I'm on the other side of the hill, so I just rode west.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lancelot Link: Monkey Geniuses 2

Lancelot Link Thursday! Because I missed posting this last week, we have *ten* links this week! 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 ten cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Shane Carruth (PRIMER) *doesn't* explain his new movie.

2) Everything You Wanted To Know About Screenwriting (But Were Afraid To Ask).

3) Work Spaces Of Geniuses!

4) Smell-o-vision makes a come back?

5) William Friedkin On Directing Unruly Actors.

6) Only 100 Little Problems With PROMETHEUS.

7 Top 50 Film Festivals.

8) Behind The Scenes On NBC's HANNIBAL. This show is like an R rated movie - dark, disturbing, dangerous!

9) The war over KNIGHT RIDER gets bloody!

10) The script for that amazing dramatic film THE ROOM...

And the car chase of the week is from one of my favorite movies...

- Bill

Thursday, April 04, 2013

RIP: Roger Ebert

When I was in community college all of the film geeks went to Mike's house on Sunday night where his mom would fix dinner and we'd all watch the PBS show SNEAK PREVIEWS with Siskel & Ebert which included the ever-popular Dog Of The Week film. As a film geek I had read critics like Kael, Simon, and Canby - but reading their reviews wasn't the same as watching SNEAK PREVIEWS. Siskel and Ebert were there on the screen, arguing about movies the way my friends and I always argued at that back table at Dennys after seeing some movie. They could see the same movie from two different perspectives and each argue their points using scenes, lines, performances, shots, and anything else from the movie. You'd learn more about movies from the films they disagreed about - because they would each make good points. If Siskel liked a film that you liked and Ebert hated it, you would learn *why* Ebert disliked the film. You may not agree with him, but you understood his points. Two guys who were passionate about movies - as our little group of film geeks were. They debated films just as we did... but had seen many more films and could use many more examples than we could. Dinner at Mike's house every Sunday night was an important part of my film education.

Later, when I was in Los Angeles writing scripts, Ebert was on Compuserve's Showbiz Forum and we often debated films online. Those were the early days when the internet was green writing on a black screen, and Ebert would talk movies with anyone with a dial up modem. There was a group of regulars who were kind of like the film geek's at Mike's house on Sundays. We'd argue films at however much a minute Compuserve charged us. What was cool about Ebert is that, despite being one of the most famous film critics in the world, he treated everyone and everyone's opinion with respect. Though he was completely wrong about DIE HARD. I was thrilled when an online conversation we had about Best Screenplay Oscar Nominees became part of his 1997 If We Picked The Winners show... and he talked about me on his TV show! Many of the discussions on the Showbiz Forum ended up in Roger's Movie Answer Man columns... and later the books. It was cool when some smart-ass remark of mine started an online conversation that ended up in a book at the Book Star in Studio City. Many of the other forum members had dinner with Roger and his wife - if you were going to be in Chicago, he'd find the time to meet you. Roger came to Los Angeles every year for the Oscars (he hosted the red carpet show on the local ABC station when the red carpet show was more about the nominees than the celebrities and what they were wearing) and I probably could have met him... but my "I'm not worthy" gene kicked in, even though we "knew each other" from online. So, I never met him... though many of my online friends did. I don't know whether Andy Ihnatko was a journalist before the Showbiz Forum or not, but he became a columnist for the Sun-Times. What's interesting to me are how many members of that old forum are working writers, now.

I was sad when Siskel passed away - half of a great team who had turned movies (and art films and indie films) into something that stupid guys from Concord could discuss. One of the great things about their show were the films I probably would never have heard of without them. We all know about the big studio releases, but would I have ever seen some art house film if they had not brought it to my attention? Well, maybe I might have - but I think in those early days of home video they brought many great little films to the attention of the average viewer. Part of the success of movies like SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (aside from that title) was due to Siskel and Ebert recommending them on national TV. Over the years, I would favor Siskel or favor Ebert. It was always changing. Sometimes I though Ebert was a complete idiot... and sometimes I though Siskel was. But without their show, would we be *thinking* about film? Or just watch movies passively?

I followed Roger's blog - never thought a rice cooker would make me cry, read his reviews and disagreed with many... but he always explained your reasons. So I understood why he liked or disliked some film. But even with the blog, he opened it up to all of the other film geeks out there. I loved how he created a place for film fans in far off lands to talk about movies as "correspondents". He allowed us to see the world through different eyes... and allowed us to see Hollywood through different eyes.

*Yesterday* he posted a blog entry celebrating 46 years as a film critic, and saying that he was going to slow down a little and take a "Leave Of Presence". Still be around, but many not post as much. Last year he posted reviews for *306* movies plus did blog posts plus posted material on Facebook and Twitter. In that blog entry he mentioned that they had found cancer in his leg, but the post was so upbeat about his future plans that I wasn't sad. Roger was a fighter, and an innovator and had a grand plan for his website's future and the future of the TV show. So I was shocked when I heard that he had passed away... but, like Mad Max, he will always live on in our memories... and live on in all of the people he touched and all of the films he championed that didn't get pushed aside by those big studio blockbusters. The world is a better place because he was here... and movies are better because he and Gene would tear them apart every week.

I'm sure he and Gene are up there discussing movies again...

I know that I will miss him.

- Bill

Lancelot Link: Retaliation!

Lancelot Link Thursday! Spring is here! And it brought ten links! 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) Ten Hot Screenwriters!

2) Graham Yost (SPEED) talks about screenwriting.

3) Ten Big Money Script Sales.

4) Hey, whatever happened to the cast of GROUNDHOG DAY?

5) Pretty Scary Stuff! Best Horror Movies?

And the Car Chase Of The Week!


- Bill

Monday, April 01, 2013

Reno Class in April

After doing my 2 day class at some film festivals and teaching classes at several screenwriting events, it finally occurred to me that I could just do a class on my own. This took a few years, by the way - I'm dumber than I look. Through a connection, I made a deal with a hotel in Lake Tahoe that was right across from both the mansion used in GODFATHER PART 2 and the CalNeva Casino where Sinatra and the Rat Pack were a regular feature. Cool!

I did a two hour "warm up" class for the Reno Screenwriting Group a couple of days before, and many members of that group took the two day class.

The last time I did the 2 day class "for myself" was maybe 2007 at the Beverly Garland Hotel a couple of blocks from where I live. I still do classes for film fests and whatever screenwriting events that still exist, but haven't done a class that was just me in the USA since 2007...

So when the Reno Screenwriting Group asked if I would be a guest at their April meeting - and do it as a full day class, I said yes. What goes around comes around. They have opened it up to the public (probably as a way to get some new members), so here is their flyer with all of the info.

- Bill


  BILL MARTELL              
            Saturday, April 13, 2013
      Reno, Nevada

Bill has written over nineteen produced films, including three HBO Premier movies, is the West Coast Editor of Scr(i)pt Magazine’s Independents screenwriting column, is a contributor to Writer's Digest Magazine and a past columnist for Hollywood Scriptwriter Magazine.  He’s been interviewed by Variety, featured in The Hollywood Reporter’s first Writers Special issue, and continues to teach around the world.

This day-long seminar is presented in two parts for both beginning and advanced screenwriters.  Attend either session – or BOTH!

   AM Session                        SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY?

8:30am -12:00pm             ...Introduction to Screenwriting            ...Protagonist vs Antagonist
     $45.00*                      ...Story Ideas and Formatting              ...Plot & Premise
(lunch not included)         ...Character Introductions                   ...First 10 Pages     

  PM Session                           YOU'RE ON YOUR WAY... NOW WHAT?    

1:00pm-5:00pm                ...Developing Characters                    ...Improving Dialogue
     $45.00*                     ...Getting Emotions on the Page          ...Transitions
(lunch not included)         ...Act II Development                          ...Pitching & Selling
                                       ...Q & A Session

BOTH SESSIONS*         Discount and lunch for those who pre-register for
     $80.00*                                      both sessions by April 7th,2013 !    

LOCATION:           KNPB Studios, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno Campus                                       1670 North Virginia Street (at Seventeenth Street), Reno, NV

TO REGISTER:     Send your name, address, phone number, session(s) you want to attend and your check (made payable to Pam Dulgar), to:
                             Pam Dulgar 
                                                3581 La Tierra Terrace
Reno, NV  89502-5936

QUESTIONS?       For additional information, please call (775) 827-2808.
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