Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Are You Flexible?

From five years ago!

No, that isn’t my best pick up line... we aren’t talking about being *physically* flexible, but *mentally* flexible.

Recently, one of my stalled projects started up again... without me.

Some other writer was hired and wrote a script completely different than the draft I was paid to write. It was an assignment based on the producer’s idea... which had some problems. One of the reasons why I dislike writing on assignment is that you often get stuck with the producer’s bad ideas, and no matter how much you explain that the idea is not the best possible idea for this story, the producer is the one writing the checks. In this case, the producer had a specific market he was aiming for - and his idea missed that market. His idea *did* fit a different market, and I explained this to him and used some other films as examples, and said that there were two ways to take the project - towards the market the producer was aiming for, or for the market that best fit the specifics of the idea he had. I also pitched some different versions of his core idea that *would* appeal to the market he was aiming for.

Hmm, that may all be confusing to you... let me use some examples if I’ve lost you. Imagine the producer wants to make a film aimed at the SAW audience about a group of college students on summer vacation in Mexico who run into some folks who want them to be organ donors... by force. But he wants to make it like one of those old AIP beach party movies, with a couple of musical numbers by this hot band he knows, and a major romantic subplot. Okay, the whole beach party thing is at odds with the SAW thing. You *can* make a light horror movie with beach party elements - actually, AIP did some DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE movies with Vincent Price back in the 60s. You could also tone down the beach party aspect and have the hot band perform in some smokey illegal rave held in a closed factory and make it more HOSTEL-like. But the producer has this image of college kids dancing on the bright sunny beach in bikinis, and he wants that in the movie. So the script goes off in that direction, with more focus on the romance and fun aspects, and the horror elements in some kind of Scooby-Doo world rather than torture porn. You know when you write it that the torture porn audience is not going to like it, but you have already pleaded your case with the producer and he has stuck by what he wants. And there *is* an audience for a “fun” horror romp like those Scooby-Doo movies.

I was flexible, and wrote the best version of the story the way the producer wanted it.

When I finished the script, some stuff happened, and the producer discovered *before making the film* that the SAW audience isn’t going to dig all of that dancing in the sand. So the project got shelved...

Except, in this case, the project returns with a page one rewrite by some other writer that is straight-forward HOSTEL-like torture porn. Hmm, exactly what I suggested before I wrote my draft.

Hey, I don’t blame the producer for having the script rewritten into something that he can sell once he’s made the film (or find the funding to make the film in the first place), but I *do* blame him for not listening when I told him this a couple of years ago. For being so stuck on his idea that he was blind to every example or piece of information I provided. If he had opened his mind to other possibilities back then, he wouldn’t have had to pay that other writer. And this is a problem for both producers *and* screenwriters...

Often *we* don’t open our mind to other possibilities and charge ahead with a version of the story we want to tell that just doesn’t work, or there is no market for.


One of my frequent bitches here is about writers who ask me for advice and then completely ignore it and then end up with projects they can not sell. I don’t understand why you ask for my advice if you plan to ignore it... or why a producer hires me because I have some screenwriting skills and then undermines everything I do to make the screenplay good. Though ego is always a factor, the other factor is some kind of weird artistic tunnel vision - they don’t *want* to see other possible ways for their story to work.

I bumped into a guy at AFM who had this problem. He wrote a genre script that no one wanted to buy. The reason why was that it completely crapped on the genre audience. It ridiculed the people who would want to buy tickets to the film or rent it on DVD. After just about everyone turned down the script, I bumped into him at Starbucks and he pitched me the script and asked why he was having trouble with it. I thought it was obvious, told him how he could change a couple of elements (and the over-all tone) and have himself a saleable script. He said he was thinking of making the film himself... and I suggested that he make those changes whether he was going to sell the script or make it. The audience is exactly the same either way, and they are not going to like being made fun of whether you make it or someone else does. But he had his vision... and now he has a film that every distributor has turned down. I have not seen it, but I don’t think he made any of the changes that would have made it something that didn’t insult the viewer. He had his vision for the story... and now he’s stuck with it.

Another friend, on a screenwriting board, posted his scenario for a script... and everyone pointed out the same basic problem. And he has fought everybody. He has his vision of the story, and his vision includes this basic story problem. What’s strange about this guy is that the story problem can be easily solved, and solving it would make the story *work*. But he’d rather fight everyone and maintain his story the way he wants to tell it.

And that is fine.

You are free to write whatever you want to write however you want to write it.

But when you write it your way and it doesn’t work, it’s not our problem.


I’ll bet you can find a half dozen blog posts where I complain about something that is *my fault* - I don’t want to make some change in my life that would make things a lot easier for myself. So, once again, I am the villain in my own story. I acknowledge this. This post is bitching about people who are doing the same thing that I sometimes do. There are some things that take me a long time to learn, and other things that I refuse to learn. But I have opened my mind enough to actually consider changes in my personal life - and many things I am working on. I don’t want to be some bitter old man bitching about how life screwed me over (unless I already am).

Hey, I started this post bitching about some producer. I should just stop my bitching and accept that this is the way things work. Producers have some crazy ideas, they are often bull-headed about those ideas, and screenwriters often have to write a bunch of drafts that don’t work before the producer realizes that the idea may not be working. As a screenwriter I can see that that idea isn’t going to work, and think they should be able to see it, too. But they don’t. So I bitch.

But when it comes to creative stuff? Instead of bitching I want to write the best screenplays possible and I also want to not only sell those screenplays but have them actually made into movies. So if someone has a better idea, I want to hear it! If someone thinks I zigged left in the script when I should have zigged right - I will consider that. One of the tips that recently ran was on “Challenging The Elements” in your screenplay, and I do that. Just today I was talking to a colleague about a script and decided a role written as a crusty old guy would be better for the project if it were a women in her late 30s to early 40s. Not only would that make it easier to cast with a name that still means something, it would add some sexual tension to a scene or two that would improve the story. That change was not *their* idea, it was *mine* - to improve the project. My original idea that it would be this crusty old guy wasn’t as good as making it a woman of a certain age. The goal is to make the story better, not stick by my guns trying to defend some not-quite-as-good version because it was the first version I came up with. You know, the first version of anything I come up with is a “first draft” - I expect to find some way to make it better.


On a message board recently I was giving some advice on how to avoid hitting those creative walls in Act 2, and warned against casting the details of your idea in stone. If you do *not* allow yourself to consider other possibilities, somewhere in act 2 your idea in its current form may just stop working. Though some other form of the idea might work, if you stick to your guns and try to force it to work... it may just crash and burn, leaving you with a 52 page screenplay. If your story *MUST* be about a 79 year old woman - that’s the only way you see your protagonist - when you hit some scene in the middle of your script where that character just doesn’t work, you never think "I’ll change the character". You have gone so far with it being *this* character that you can’t imagine it being anyone else. Except it *must* be someone else for the story to work. So you have written yourself into a corner, and will not back up. You have to be flexible enough to throw away the things that don't work in your script and creative enough to find the things that will work.

A friend of mine has a stalled script where the problem is the specific character he wants to have as his lead can not be the lead - they are a peripheral character and not involved in the conflict. He keeps trying to force them into the conflict, resulting in a bunch of contrived scenes that do not work. The real solution is to start from scratch and find the character who is actually involved in the conflict, or to start with a character and find a great conflict that explores their character. But just trying to push forward isn’t the answer. He has created limits on his screenplay, and that is why his screenplay has stalled. Problem is - he doesn’t want to open his eyes, be flexible and remove the limits.

I am a strong believer in outlines, which help you find these problems ahead of time. Brainstorming all kinds of possibilities up front, rather than get so far along that you don't want to start from scratch. You don't want to limit your story, especially if those limits run it into a wall on page 52.

What you discover when you brainstorm is that there are hundreds of possibilities for your story and if you challenge yourself to keep going - possibilities that you never knew existed. The story doesn’t have to work one way, it can work hundreds of different ways. To find the way that works best, you need to open your mind to *every* possibility. I'm a big believer in using both sides of the noggin - create like hell with no censor, then look at what you have and make intelligent choices. I know this is a generalization, but one of the things that always seems strange to me is that the “craftsmen” type of screenwriters often seem more likely to consider other possibilities and make changes to their story when it isn’t working than the “artist” type of screenwriter. The “artists” often seem so married to the details that they fight changing that 79 year old woman character into a character who actually fits the story they are trying to tell. They keep banging their heads against the wall, when there is a door only a few feet away. But they just feel the door should be here. They side with “creative instinct” instead of using logic and reason when the story isn’t working. If it isn’t working, *why* isn’t it working? Okay, now how do you fix that?

Screenwriting is often problem solving. But you must be willing to solve the problems. To look at your screenplay objectively, and realize that even though you love the idea of kids dancing on the beach, that may not fit the dark and violent horror story you are trying to tell. Instead of fighting for your “vision” when it doesn’t work, fight for *the screenplay* and make sure it works. Be flexible enough to see when something doesn’t work - even if it is something that you love. A script that you love but doesn’t work at all (or stalls out at page 52 and you never get to Fade Out) isn’t a good script. You want to make that script work, and make it work all the way down the line so that it can be made into a movie and be seen by an audience. Hey, that might mean the crusty old guy you originally envisioned ends up being a woman in her early 40s. If that makes the script better, you make the change.


And if you thought making your script work to get past page 52 requires flexibility, wait until you get to development and production. That 92 year old woman lead? Who are the 92 year old women who can open a movie? Who are the 92 year old women stars? The very first note you will get is to change that character to a castable lead - a character who can be played by a current movie star like Will Smith or Tom Hanks or Angelina Jolie. And because getting a star to sign on is not easy - everyone has a film that needs a star - you will have to re-imagine your story with a lead character who is like whichever star they end up signing. Twice I have had the “old retired gunslinger who comes back for one last job” played by young stars nowhere near retirement age. Okay, there goes that story trope! Time to rethink why the guy is no longer in the biz! You need to be flexible enough to solve the problem and come up with that new version of your story that works for the star...

And heaven forbid they hire Jessica Alba.

Things are always changing, and you need to be ready and able - and in the right mind set - to solve these problems and protect the core of your screenplay. Your 79 year old woman may be played by Will Smith, but your screenplay still needs to work - and you need to rethink the story so that it works just as well and maybe even better. You know that great scene in your screenplay when she’s in the lighthouse and sees the man that she loves in a boat that crashes into the rocks and sinks... and then she hears the lighthouse door open and someone trudging up the stairs... sure it is the villain... but it is HIM and they embrace? Yeah, well we are shooting the film in New Mexico because of the tax credits and they have no lighthouses and no rocky shores for ships to run aground on. Are you flexible enough to rethink that scene and find a way to make it work just as well in New Mexico? Is your mind open to the change and ready for the challenge? Or is your script set in stone and unchangeable?

If you can't imagine your story working any other way than how your originally wrote it, you have a problem.

This stuff makes that hurdle on page 52 look like something you can hop over! You have to be able to see your story working in many different ways, not just so that you can deal with production and stars and actors who don’t believe in screenplays, but so you can find the very best way to tell your story in the first place. Not get trapped in some dead end version of your story, or some version of your story that nobody wants to see, or some version that is just not very good.

If you fight for the bad version of your screenplay, that’s what you will end up with.

If you allow yourself to think of all of the possibilities, you can find the best way for your screenplay to work.

Be flexible.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Why the MATRIX sequels sucked.
Dinner: China Wall in Concord: All you can eat Chinese Food.
Pages: Hey, halfway done with this treatment I should be 2/3rds of the way done with.
Bicycle: Nope, in my home town.
Movies: Nope, working.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lancelot Link: End Of The Year!

Lancelot Link Monday! It's the end of the year as we know it, and I feel fine! The end of the year brings out all kinds of lists, and this week we get all of the "early lists". How can you pick the 10 Best Films Of 2014 when there are a couple of days left in the year? I mean, what if someone sneaks in a film at the last minute? Say, some other movie North Korea didn't like gets released anyway? What if *that's* the best picture of the year? All of these early lists will be wrong! While you're thinking about that, 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 a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Hobbit Five..................... $41,420,000
2 Unbroken........................ $31,748,000
3 Into Woods...................... $31,021,000
4 Museum Tomb..................... $20,600,000
5 Annie........................... $16,600,000
6 Hunger Games.................... $10,000,000
7 Gambler.......................... $9,300,000
8 Imitation........................ $7,930,000
9 Exodus........................... $6,750,000
10 Wild............................. $5,415,000

2) Hardboiled Slang Dictionary

3) The Mystery Of Martin Brest.

4) Starlog Magazine Presents Cinemagic.

5) * Documentaries on Cinematography.

6) THE INTERVIEW becomes Day & Date Experiment.

7) Best Indie Films Of 2014.

8) Empire's Best Films Of 2014.

9) Time Magazine's 10 Best & 10 Worst Movies of 2014.

10) Top 10 James Bond Deaths (since there's a chapter in the new Blue Book on Bond).

11) Say Anything Jackie Chan!

12) Adapted Screenplay Oscar Contenders.

13) Original Screenplay Oscar Contenders.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

CHRISTMAS VACATION... some of you probably headed home over the weekend.



TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Theme & Emotional Conflict & Jackie Chan - even a silly genre film can have substance.
Dinner: Fish & Chips & Beer @ The Warehouse in Oakland.
Pages: My day of rest before the new treatment for the page 1 rewrite of the script I sold a while back.
Bicycle: No. I'm in the Bay Area.

Movie: THE GAMBLER (remake) with Marky Mark (but no funky bunch). I have the poster for the original James Caan version, which was a product of it's time: a gritty drama about a man whose life is in a downward spiral. Though I haven't seen the film in years, I believe it has an ambiguous ending where he bets his life and you never know if he wins or loses. Darker than dark. So... they remade it. The problem with all remakes of any good or memorable film is that it will be compared to the original, and just because we have already seen that original and have fond memories of it... the remake can only fail. This is doubled when you have a film that works for the 70s but is completely at odds with current films. THE GAMBLER is kind of a cult film, now... and that was why it was remade, but also why it can never work. Saw it in a crowded cinema in Oakland (Jack London Square) with an audience that really wanted to see one of the other films which were sold out. Only a handful of people seemed to be there to see THE GAMBLER.

This is a character study about an addict who doesn't want to kick the habit, he wants to OD and die. Every time he has a chance to solve his problems, he screws up *on purpose* so that his problems grow... and the people he owes money to want to kill him. And he *wants* to be killed by them. Just as some people purposely break the law and brandish a gun when the police show up so that they can commit "suicide by cop", college professor Jim Bennett (Alex in the original, which is the name of the character in the Dostoyevsky novel) is trying to commit suicide by loan shark goon. When he has the chance to pay them off, he gambles away the money and then seems to beg them to beat the crap out of him. So this is a hard guy to like, and one of the problems with this story in 2014 is that we want him to get his shit together... but that isn't part of his life plan at all. You gasp at how he keeps screwing his life up again and again. How he brings other (innocent) people into his problems. In the original he bankrupts his mother in order to pay back the mobsters... and then gambles the money away instead of paying it back. Here, his mother is wealthy so she isn't reduced to rags by her son, but I'm not sure that makes Bennett any more likable or even understandable.

That may be the core issue with the film: as an addict it's impossible to understand his addiction. We wonder why he doesn't just stop. But an addict doesn't think the way we do... an addict *can't* stop, and that's impossible for understand on an emotional level. Every time he borrows money from someone who carefully explains they will break every bone in his body if he fails to pay it back... and he just blows it on some stupid bet... we might intellectually think "that's because he's an addict" but *emotionally* we are more likely to lose identification and understanding. Is he stupid? This is the problem with conflicts that are internal in a film: we can't see his cravings, only the actions caused by his cravings. We have to process the story intellectually instead of emotionally... and our emotions often turn to anger against the protagonist (instead of sympathy and understanding). So, a tough movie to watch. Things that were daring in the 70s are now a retread of daring (which is not daring).

A movie like NIGHTCRAWLER which also deals with a character that is impossible to understand and identify with seems to work due to the trajectory of the character. Where Bennett is on a downward spiral and doing everything he can to fail, Louis Bloom in NIGHTCRAWLER is doing everything he can to *succeed*. So we cringe at Bloom when he gets ahead through some unethical method. There's an interesting contrast between good (success) and evil (means of success) in that story that really isn't present in GAMBLER because Bennett is a degenerate gambler (not good) who counters every moment of winning with a whole lot of losing (also not good). Oddly, NIGHT CRAWLER is the more upbeat movie... and maybe even has a happy ending (which you wish had not have happened). Though this version of THE GAMBLER has a more upbeat and less ambiguous ending than the original, it never "earns" it. It never shows us what's going on inside Bennett's head that could produce this ending. And I'm sure in some film school somewhere there is a student with a theory that the ending was all a dream... even though *that* wasn't set up at all (but could have been, and maybe that would have been a better end than the one we got).

Cast is great. Yes, that old man dying in the opening scene *is* George Kennedy. You can't beat John Goodman as the heavy "heavy", he is always in a towel with big layers of flab hanging off of him. Goodman is so calm, so at peace with his girth, that he's chilling just sitting there... before he begins explaining the violent things which might befall Bennett. Michael Kenneth Williams as the more violent mobster is great. I have no idea whether that facial scar is real or great make up, but that dude is chilling. One of the things that makes his character work are little moments like when he dances with a hooker in a hallway and really has some moves. Alvin Ing as the Korean illegal casino owner is also great due to his sense of inner calm when others would project anger. A highlight scene when he's getting a manicure while his men are beating Bennett to a pulp is great stuff (though Bennett isn't as messed up as he should be... his nose is never broken and I've had worse facial cuts shaving). Jessica Lange as his mother is a complete bitch... you almost want her to lose her money. Anthony Kelley as the student who throws the basketball game for him doesn't seem to be the tragic figure the 70s version of the character was, but his scene where he sees right into Bennett is great. The nice things about Lauren Hutton replacement Brie Larson is that they film her without make up... and she looks like a regular person. She has pimples, like a real college student would have. Her performance is good, too... but you keep wondering why she enables him... why she *helps him* commit suicide by loan shark goon.

The problem is that the film could never live up to the original, so no matter how well made it was it was never going to work from an "art" standpoint, and due to the subject matter it's never going to work from a box office standpoint. I understand remaking some old hit movie to make money, but don't understand why someone would remake a good film for *artistic* reasons. Why not remake a bad film and make it better or just make an original film? You can't repaint the Mona Lisa and be seen as an artist... only a forger.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Back For Christmas

On the Seventh Day Of Christmas My True Love Gave To Me....

From Season 1 of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, directed by Hitch himself, this nice little episode about an extremely henpecked husband who begins digging a wine cellar in the basement of his house before a business trip. But is it really a wine cellar?

One of the things that is great about this episode is how it is subtly demonstrated that the Husband is henpecked. The Wife keeps telling him what he likes and finishing his sentences in ways he never intended. It's some nice character writing by Francis M. Cockrell (who wrote one of my favorite movies INFERNO with Robert Ryan, plus a bunch of other great Hitchcock Presents episodes and some Perry Masons) based on a story by John Collier (who was famous for stories with twist endings).

Though the story is kind of leisurely paced, it does have some moments of suspense with the wife and the couple who was late for the going away party, and later the hotel maid at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

A nice little treat for the holidays about a gift that backfires.

And here are some fun ideas for your Hitchcock Christmas celebration from artist Grant Snider!

Buy This As A Poster!



The perfect holiday gift!

Click here for more info!


We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lancelot Link: Adrian Messenger Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty and nice, Franklin Leonard's Black List comes out today! The Black List is a list of best unproduced screenplays of the year, voted on by development execs from production companies and studios. Note that it's not The Best Unsold Screenplays... most of these have been sold and are heading towards production, just haven't been produced as of today. In honor of that, many of today's links feature lists. There's The Hit List, which is competition for the Black List, plus some other fun list links. When will someone do a list of Best Unsold Screenplays? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Exodus.......................... $24,500,000
2 MockingJay 1.................... $13,200,000
3 Penguins......................... $7,300,000
4 Top Five......................... $7,210,000
5 Big Hero......................... $6,145,000
6 Interstellar..................... $5,500,000
7 Horr Bosses 2.................... $4,630,000
8 Dumb Dumber 2.................... $2,757,000
9 Everything....................... $2,525,000
10 Wild............................. $1,550,000

2) Death Of The Midrange Movie

3) List Of The Best Undistributed Films Of 2014.

4) Add New Bond Script To List Of Stuff In Sony Hack.

5) List Of Every Episode of STAR TREK, Ranked.

6) 2014 Hit List (Screenplays).

7) The Black List 2014.

8) List Of 19 Worst Movies Of 2014.

9) List Of Golden Globe Nominations.

10) List Of Universal Blockbusters Released In 2014.

11) List Of Film Grants ($$$) You Can Apply For.

12) List Of Studios Al Pacino Wants To Work With...

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, more of a fox chase... from THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER, score by the amazing Jerry Goldsmith.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Lancelot Link: BIFA Edition.

Lancelot Link Monday! Last night was the BIFAs, the British Independent Film Awards. I've gone to the awards a couple of times (thanks to Raindance) and it's cool that indie films get awards even in England. While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mockingjay...................... $21,600,000
2 Penguins........................ $11,100,000
3 Horr Bosses 2.................... $8,600,000
4 Big Hero......................... $8,130,000
5 Interstellar..................... $8,000,000
6 Dumb To.......................... $4,169,000
7 Everything....................... $2,668,000
8 Gone Girl........................ $1,500,000
9 Pyramid.......................... $1,350,000
10 Birdman.......................... $1,150,000

2) Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on writing bio pix.

3) SNL's version of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS teaser trailer.

4) Pennywise Returns On The Big Screen In STEPHEN KING'S IT.

5) All Of The STAR WARS: FORCE AWAKENS Parodies In One Place!

6) New Bond Film Is SPECTRE and Mr. White From CASINO Returns.

7) GODZILLA Returns To Toho!

8) British Independent Film Award Winners (BIFAs).

9) Trailer For FOLLOWS.

10) Ryan Reynolds Returns As DEADPOOL, Ruins Alliterative Headline.


12) TERMINATOR: GENISYS Trailer... Ahnuld Vs. Ahnuld?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Film Courage Interviews

So, here are all of the Film Courage website interview so far...

Screenwriting means working on a deadline... sometimes an insane deadline:

How To Research Your Screenplay:

Creating suspense on screen:

How to land a gig:

It's a big screen, you need ideas big enough to fill it!

My First Pitch:

How to write 3 screenplays a year, every year:

You need to keep writing... even when you get an assignment:

Dispelling the myth of the Overnight Success:

The 100 Idea Theory:

The First Time I Got Paid To "Do It":

Take This Job And Shove It:

Is the thing on the counter behind me a Human Centipede With Deer?

Look for the next segment here: Film Courage Website.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Lancelot Link: The Force Takes A Nap!

Lancelot Link Monday... er, Tuesday! We are a day late due to the holiday here in the USA, because we were celebrating that Crystal The Monkey earned $108,000 in 2012, which is more than the average screenwriter earns! So my advice to everyone is to become a Monkey Actor! While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Actuals:
1 Mockingjay 1.................... $56,972,599
2 Penguins........................ $25,447,444
3 Big Hero........................ $18,816,798
4 Interstellar.................... $15,743,005
5 Horr Bosses 2................... $15,457,418
6 Dumb & Dumber 2.................. $8,358,620
7 Everything....................... $5,011,146
8 Gone Girl........................ $2,465,434
9 Birdman.......................... $1,874,369
10 St. Vincent...................... $1,704,700

2) Sitcom Jokes Per Minute Ranking.

3) Twenty Five Most Powerful Authors (Source Material For Hits).

4) Tarantino On Screenwriting.

5) Writer's Round Table: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Larry Karazewski & Scott Alexander (Big Eyes), E. Max Frye (Foxcatcher).

6) Ana Lily Amirpour on GIRL WALKS HOME AT NIGHT.

7) Malcolm McDowell On Working With Kubrick.

8) Bond Villains Ranked From Pussy Cat To Evil Genius Who Pets A Pussy Cat.

9) Because Of James Cameron There May Be Poo On Your Cinema Seat!

10) The Surprise Hits Of 2014.

11) Women In The UK Film Industry.

12) Monkey Actors, Grips, Location Managers... make more than Writers!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

"Oh no! They shot the monkey!"


Saturday, November 29, 2014


Cyber Monday... it's the day in America where we shop online. There are no shootings or stabbings or trampled fellow customers. Well, those things may still happen, it *is* America... but they don't happen due to a sale. I want to be part of the big Cyber Monday thing, so...

All of the Blue Books over there >>>>
Usually $3.99, now $2.99 (that's twenty five percent off!).

Sale lasts through midnight on Cyber Monday (12/1).

If I have record sales TODAY, the next Blue Book will release at $2.99 for 2 weeks.
The next Blue Book is:

And should be out in about a week! (was supposed to be today, but those danged holidays got in the way).

Tell your friends about the deal!
Tell your screenwriting group!
Mention it on message boards!
Go into a coffee shop and yell about it!
Tell the security guard who comes to kick you out of the coffee shop about it!

I believe Amazon can do a gift thingie where they send it to your friend in "gift wrap" for the holidays.

Lancelot Links will be Tuesday!

Oh, and this...


Monday, November 24, 2014

Lancelot Link: Part 1

Lancelot Link Monday! MOCKINGJAY PART ONE filled cinemas this weekend, but made me wonder about this practice of splitting movies in half. KILL BILL was filmed as *one film* then split into two... imagine doing that to other movies! TRAINS, PLANE and PLANE, AUTOMOBILES? THE ONE AND A HALF WORLDS OF GULLIVER and THE OTHER ONE AND A HALF WORLDS OF GULLIVER? Where does it all stop??? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mockingjay Part 1.............. $123,000,000
2 Big Hero........................ $20,086,000
3 Interstellar.................... $15,100,000
4 Dumb & Dumber 2................. $13,820,000
5 Gone Girl........................ $2,815,000
6 Beyond Lights.................... $2,630,000
7 St. Vincent...................... $2,354,000
8 Fury............................. $1,900,000
9 Birdman.......................... $1,855,000
10 Theory Everything................ $1,500,000

2) How People Decide To See Movies.

3) Leak Casting Information, Go To Prison!

4) The Brit List

5) Interactive Short Films From Google... The Next Big Thing?

6) Joss Whedon: The Five Things Your Screenplay Must Have!

7) Five Big Mistakes Indie Films Make.

8) James Gunn on planning sequels before the first film makes any money... Counting chickens @ DC?

9) Mike Le's PATIENT ZERO gets a star. (Congrats to Mike!) (sat next to him at JOHN WICK)

10) My Portland Pal Daniel Wilson Writing New Film For Brad Pitt.

11) Mel Gibson's comeback film?

12) JURASSIC WORLD... an overly nostalgic trailer?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Everyone is going to the mall for Black Friday Sales!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Lancelot Link: Awards & Alcohol.

Lancelot Link Monday! The Hollywood Film Awards were broadcast last week and many of you are wondering what the heck those are and who the heck runs it? Good question! More proof that *anyone* can turn a screenwriting contest into an awards show and celebs will actually show up. This is more disturbing than NIGHTCRAWLER! While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Dumb & Dumber To................ $38,053,000
2 Big Hero Six.................... $36,010,000
3 Interstellar.................... $29,190,000
4 Beyond Light..................... $6,500,000
5 Gone Girl........................ $4,625,000
6 St. Vincent...................... $4,025,000
7 Fury............................. $3,810,000
8 Nightcrawler..................... $3,038,000
9 Ouija............................ $3,025,000
10 Birdman.......................... $2,450,000

2) INTERSTELLAR: From Spielberg To Nolan... what changed?

3) Six Studio Heads Discuss The Biz.

4) Number Crunching The Black List Site's Readers Reports.

5) Nicholl Fellowship Live Script Readings.

6) The Black List's Live Readings.

7) My friend Steve Weller's Blog is on props in Indie Films.

8) Five Types Of Twist Endings.

9) Egoyan talks about his new film.

10) James Gunn on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2.

11) The Hollywood Film Awards... WTF?

12) Women Who Can Kick Steven Seagal's Ass.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From HIT & RUN...


Wednesday, November 12, 2014


From 2009...

Saturday I played hooky and rode my bike to the Laurel Canyon bus, went over the hill into Hollywood and then rode to a theater where my friend Danny’s film was playing at MockFest. It was either watch a movie or work on this troublesome scene... and watching a movie won. Danny is a member of the SoCal Film Group, which is comprised of a bunch of people I know from a screenwriting message board who just decided to make their own movies. They pooled their resources and labor and, well, it’s some kind of communism I’m sure. They work on each other’s films and use each other’s equipment. HUAC should be notified of their activities. Their short films play in festivals all over the world and often win awards. They had a film play on USA Network’s Halloween show. And their entries are usually picked every year at MockFest. A couple of years ago the film was CHILDREN OF SCUM, which I played a pivotal role in... and was cut. This year the film showing was TOSSERS about Gay Frisbee dancers. MockFest is all about mockumentaries, and SCUM was the DVD behind the scenes extra doc for a film that doesn’t exist. TOSSERS is a doc about the art of Frisbee dancing - think ice dancing without the ice and with Frisbees.

A couple of years ago MockFest was at a cinema in Beverly Hills, this year it was at a stage theater modeled after the Old Globe, with built in digital projector and sound system... in West Hollywood. Now, for those of you out of town, West Hollywood is the Gay district of Los Angeles, like the Castro in San Francisco. Though there’s a Gay nighclub down the street from where I live in the Valley, there are probably 40 Gay nightclubs in West Hollywood. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But this film is about *Gay* Frisbee dancing - would that be a problem in a theater in West Hollywood? When I rode up and locked my bike, it wasn’t just a theater - it was a theater specializing in Lesbian plays. This could be interesting.

The theater *was* interesting, by the way - some old building converted into a theater, not much from the outside but inside they had worked hard to replicate the Old Globe and it was really cool. And the posters on the walls from past and present shows was interesting, too - I never knew there were so many Lesbian plays. Maybe I’ll go back and see one sometime.

Danny and a handful of people involved in the film (or friends of Danny) arrived and they tore our tickets and allowed us into the theater for this program of short mocks.

First film was a promotional film for a very perky and aggressive female real estate agent who wanted you to vote for her as Relator Of The Year. This was a hundred times funnier than the two episodes of PARKS & RECREATION I have seen - and I love Amy Pohler! I’ve been a fan since she played Andy Richter’s little sister on Conan O’Brien. But this short just kept the gags coming. The relator was trying to sell us on this beautiful neighborhood - which appeared to be an un-kept slum filled with neck high weeds instead of a lawn and graffitied houses. Then they showed a series of people who bought houses from her - listing their jobs and credit scores and anything else that was funny. And the people were, well, you wouldn’t want any of them living in your neighborhood even if you lived in that slum. Crazy! Ended with her plea to vote for her as Relator Of The Year... short and sweet.

There were no protestors for TOSSERS, and the film was funny and didn’t make fun of Gay people... it made fun of just about everyone and everything else. There was archival footage of the founder of Frisbee dancing, an interview with the man running the annual competition and organization, and footage of two pairs of dancers as they prepare for the big competition. The male pair consisted of a full of himself artist who works in shopping carts and his boyfriend who believes he’s a werewolf... though he has yet to go through the transformation. The female pair are extreme vegans, one is a folk singer and the other... secretly wants to eat meat. And many complications ensue. I laughed a lot, but he strange thing is that by the end the film becomes a love story that is actually emotional.

The next film was about a couple that break up and then she hops a train at Union station and he follows - and they argue on the train. This was not a mockumentary. The two actors, playing the fighting couple, were on a real train full of real people and the film was about their interactions with the passengers. Now, this could have been a BORAT kind of film with the couple becoming more and more outrageous... but it didn’t go that way. Instead it was realistic and the reactions were realistically uncomfortable and watching it made you feel uncomfortable for the real passengers who were feeling uncomfortable around the bickering couple. And the film was seemingly endless it was a cross-country train journey - I wouldn’t know if it *ever* ended because after half the audience snuck out I followed them when we got the "Day Two" title card (after it had already seemed like a week). Eventually everyone from the TOSSERS group was in the lobby, and we decided to get a drink. Or five.

I like promoting my friend’s projects. That’s what a friend does.

Last week I had dinner with a friend of mine who works at a studio with a Christian specialty division and mentioned that I have two other friends who made a Christian film that is looking for distribution. I haven’t seen this film, but I know these guys and I’m going to support their film. It helps that the film has won at a festival and has some great reviews. The filmmakers are smart guys and I hope the studio picks it up.

I like helping my friends. I’m much better at pitching someone else’s projects than my own. I feel like I’m bragging if I tell someone about my projects, so I either say nothing about them or soft-pedal them. But someone else’s project I can pitch like crazy.

But sometimes cheerleading a friend’s project or a friend can backfire. A decade ago when I was getting three films made every year, I had a friend who would do anything to break in. I’d read one of his scripts and it was pretty good, so when a producer I had worked for in the past was looking for someone to write a script (and I was booked on another script) I did my best cheerleading job to promote my friend as the writer. He got the job... then proceeded to blow through the deadline without getting anything written. He had written a pretty good script, but I guess it took him forever to write it. Or maybe he just choked. Whatever the reason, I’d gone out of my way to tell this producer what a great writer my friend was... only to have my friend drop the bal and cause a major problem for the producer... who now hated me.

And when another friend did a terrible job of promoting his film, I jumped in and pushed the hell out of it for him, sight unseen. Well, that film ended up finding a distrib, and gets solid one star ratings on IMDB - most people saying it is the worst film they have ever seen. If you were to ask me point blank whether I thought that film was any good while I was talking it up, I would not have lied to you - I worried that it sucked. But it was my friend’s film! I was caught between being the supportive friend and being honest. And, I had never actually seen the film, so maybe it *was* good. Plus, there are plenty of bad films out there - and the publicity departments at the studios still promote them as brilliant. I’ve even seen Oscar campaigns in the trades for movies that just plain sucked.

And there are millions of times where I am saying encouraging things to friends when what I really want to say is: Your script sucks, get a day job now! You want to be honest, but at the same time the guy’s your friend. You give some constructive suggestions, but the guy doesn’t listen. I have one friend who gets the same constructive suggestions from all of his friends and completely brutal comments from everyone else... and doesn’t change his script. Oh, and always says that his friends “get him” and others don’t seem to. I think we all want to tell him that his script sucks - I don’t mean this script needs some work, it *completely* sucks. But how do you tell the guy? He won’t take it well. Some people take criticism well, this guy doesn’t take it well at all.

I have other friends who are on the wrong path in their writing and are about to hit a big brick wall. I think about telling them about the approaching wall, but I’m not sure they would believe me. I slammed into it, everybody else I know slammed into it, but they think they will be different. So I just continue to encourage them as I put my hand over my eyes to avoid witnessing the big car wreck that I know is coming. After they hit the wall, they will have learned and I will be there to encourage them when they head in the *correct* direction.

And I can't tell you how many screenings of friends films I've been to where they asked me what I thought afterwards, and I had to find something good about the movie that I could talk about... "Great cinematography! How did you get that shot where..."

I can never figure out what’s the right thing to do - be honest or support my friends?

It’s so much easier when it’s something like Danny’s movie, that is actually funny... and won Best Director Award at Mockfest! Or even my friends with the Christian movie that has also won awards and got good reviews. Then I can be honest and cheerlead at the same time.

Somewhere out there, the friend of the guy with the endless train movie is telling people about that film and trying to make it sound interesting.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Take Us Someplace Cool & STAR TREK.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burrito.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lancelot Link: Hunt For The Blood Banana

Lancelot Link Monday! A week into NaNoWriMo... how are you doing? Even if you are way behind, keep going! Maybe this will just be NaNoDecWriMos in your case, but you will get something done! I suspect some of you may have been playing hooky from writing by going to the movies... this was a record weekend. In fact, we've been having a bunch of those lately! So why are there news stories about how Hollywood is in trouble? Is that just wishful thinking by sloppy entertainment news people who wish comic book movies weren't making so much money? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Big Hero........................ $56,200,000
2 Interstellar.................... $50,000,000
3 Gone Girl........................ $6,100,000
4 Ouiji............................ $6,017,000
5 St. Vincent...................... $5,707,000
6 Nightcrawler..................... $5,512,000
7 Fury............................. $5,500,000
8 John Wick........................ $4,075,000
9 Alex Terrible.................... $3,495,000
10 Book Of Life..................... $2,800,000

2) DeNiro Eats Pasta For RAGING BULL: 20 Greatest Actor Transformations Of All Time.

3) Fellow Raindance Juror Edgar Wright's Top Film Influences.

4) *Mensa's* Most Scary Movies.

5) BATMAN Home Video?

6) How Likely Is It That You Will Make One MILLION Dollars In The Film Biz?

7) INTERSTELLAR Interview With Nolan & Cast.

8) Remove One Letter And It's An Entirely Different Movie.

9) The Young & Hungry List: Give 'em A Sandwich & Wait 'till They're Older!

10) PULP FICTION 20 Year Anniversary Panel Discussion.

11) Martin Scorsese On His career So Far.

12) They Have Already Given Out Some Oscars! Who Got 'em?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From BOLT.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Lancelot Link: NaNoWriMoNaNoNaNo

Lancelot Link Monday! Happy November! This is not only NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where everyone writes a novel by the end of the month) it's also Movember (where people grow a mustache). I already have a mustache, and am working on a screenplay rewrite instead of a novel, but I urge the rest of you, men women or children, to write a novel while growing a mustache this month. Plenty of famous novelists had facial hair! I'm sure the Bronte sisters did. They were writing in a time before the invention of the NoNo Facial Hair Removal Device. Isn't it weird that the one things you would never want to use in Movemeber when participating in NaNoWriMo is the NoNo? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Nightcrawler.................... $10,909,000
2 Ouiji........................... $10,900,000
3 Fury............................. $9,100,000
4 Gone Girl........................ $8,800,000
5 Book Of Life..................... $8,300,000
6 John Wick........................ $8,050,000
7 St. Vincent...................... $7,752,000
8 Alexander Terrible............... $6,485,000
9 Judge............................ $3,400,000
10 Dracula Untold................... $2,946,000

2) Distribution Strategies For Your Indie Film.

3) 10 Lesson Learned From Making A Film For $10,000... that includes helicopters!

4) NIGHTCRAWLER's screenwriter Dan Gilroy Interviewed.

5) The 11 Scariest Films Of All Time According To Martin Scorsese.

6) Alexandre Aja on HORNS and PIRANHA 3D's TV Cut.

7) Behind The Scenes On TERMINATOR GENISYS... Will Ahnuld Use A Rascal?

8) Actors Who Win Oscars For The Wrong Roles.

9) Ivan Reitman: From Porn To Cronenberg To GHOST BUSTERS.

10) FLIGHT Writer John Gatins Hired For SKULL ISLAND.

11) JOHN WICK's Adrianne Palicki On Switching Genders!

12) An Ebola Proof Cinema For Your Safety!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Friday, October 31, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Halloween (1978)

Tonight I'm having cocktails at the Rabbit In Red Cocktail Lounge...

I don't think HALLOWEEN is the scariest movie ever made, but it's the film of the day. Saw it when it first came out - and probably saw it the next night, too. Here's what HALLOWEEN did - it wasn't the first stalk and slash film, but it was the first one to get it right... so all of the ones that came after it copied and stole from it without mercy. The cavalcade of bodies scenes comes from this film - even though PSYCHO kind of sets the stage with Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar. And one of the reasons why we all saw it was because it was Janet Leigh's daughter.

Carpenter really took the time to *build* the suspense and create the dread - and the film sticks with you. He also came up with story details that made it seem real... and frightening. And, unlike the stupid remake, Carpenter knew the way to scare the crap out of you was to show a perfectly normal suburban family and world... and have the killer come from that world. The cute little kid who knocks at your door tonight? Michael Myers. He's sweet and polite and maybe a *member of your family* - and he could just take a knife and stab the life out of you...

If he saw you having sex. It's not about family (stupid sequels), it's not about some pagan cult crap (stupid sequels), Michael sees his sister naked and kills her. Michael sees PJ and Nancy in sexual situations - and kills them. Dude doesn't like sexual situations!

Carpenter's shots are elegant, he makes Michael into a ghost - he's there one minute and gone the next... so you never know when or where he will pop up. This film still works (unlike the remake). The film was made for $300k... and made $58 million.

Happy Halloween!

- Bill

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
The Exorcist (1973)

My first job (other than mowing lawns and delivering papers and helping my dad) was at the Century Movie Theater in Pleasant Hill... when THE EXORCIST opened. I was too young to see the film, but old enough to work in the cinema... so I ended up seeing it 144 times. I can tell you how each scene works, how many shots are in the stair roll at the end, and all kinds of little details about the film.

But the big details are what make it scary.

The film (and novel) was a product of its time - but has also seemed to stand the test of time. The turbulent late 60s and early 70s, when children grew up too fast and became fouled mouthed hippies who believed in free love. Your kid was having sex and doing drugs and saying words that would make a sailor blush. So a film about a kid who goes through all of that - because they are possessed by Satan - connected with the audience on a primal level. The perfect film for parents.

But one of the reasons why it is with us today is that it's also a perfect film for kids. You reach puberty, and all of these crazy things happen to you - and it's as if you are possessed. You are not in control. I think the best horror films are the ones that take some real life problem and twist it - so that you can imagine this (impossible) thing happening to you, or someone you love. THE EXORCIST manages to work for parents of teens *and* teens. Plus, people who used to be teens and have had parents. The idea of someone you love turning into a monster is *emotional* and scary.

It's amazing how much fear a few gallons of split pea soup can produce.

- Bill

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Rosemary's Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY'S BABY deals with a first pregnancy... and all of the unexpected feeling and side effects. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is a typical New York newlywed - her husband (John Cassavettes) is an actor in commercials, not famous, more the struggling type. She's quit her job so that they can start a family. When she becomes pregnant, it's a joyous occasion, but she isn't quite sure what to expect - are these odd pains she keeps having normal? What about the weight loss? The strange cravings for raw meat? Hey, pickles and ice cream is one thing, but raw meat? Is that normal? Her new doctor tells Rosemary that every pregnancy is an individual experience, you can't compare it to your friend's pregnancies. It's impossible to know what to expect. Some pregnancies are easy, some are hard... some are painful. Feeling it kick is one thing, but did it just *bite* her? What's growing inside Rosemary? It's a baby, but a baby *what*?

The great thing about this film is how it takes a normal thing and twists it - even if you have never been pregnant, you know someone who has - and nothing that happens is *that* strange. But just enough strange that Rosemary wonders what the hell is going on.

Did the nice old couple next door give her a glass of unusually potent wine which lead to a not-so-immaculate conception involving Satan? Was she drunk, or did that guy really have horns? Was it all a dream? She wakes up with claw marks on her back and there's this thing growing inside of her causing strange cravings, dizziness, nausea, and depression. Rosemary's husband and the next door neighbors seem to be controlling her life - telling her what she should do for the sake of the baby. Pregnant for the first time, she doesn't want to do anything that might harm the baby. When she stops drinking those strange tanis root "vitamin drinks" the baby begins twisting her guts - making her so sick she can't even stand up. The baby is controlling her! Hey, it could be worse - she just gets ultra-morning sickness... her husband's business rival is suddenly struck blind the day before his job interview!

Rosemary's loving husband starts out thinking her strange beliefs about their neighbors are just a side effect of her pregnancy. The more weird stuff she uncovers, the more he believes she's just imagining things. Of course, her loving husband is a member of the Satanic cult. He's turned against her - allowed Satan to have his way with her in exchange for a role on a TV series... let's hope it wasn't the CHARLIE'S ANGELS revamp.

ROSEMARY'S BABY is not a scream-outloud scare movie - it's all slow build and things that are slightly creepy. But because it seems like something happening in the real world, it gets under your skin - this could really happen!

The locations then and now:

- Bill

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lancelot Link: Board Games Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! OUIJI is based on a Milton Bradley board game... the people who make Monopoly are helping you invite Satan into your house! While you're thinking about that, 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 links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Ouiji........................... $20,006,000
2 John Wick....................... $14,150,000
3 Fury............................ $13,000,000
4 Gone Girl....................... $11,100,000
5 Book Of Life..................... $9,800,000
6 St Vincent....................... $8,058,000
7 Alexander Terrible............... $7,023,000
8 Best Of Me....................... $4,736,000
9 Judge............................ $4,345,000
10 Dracula Untold................... $4,302,000

2) The Brown List: Which Execs Are Mean, Nasty, Shitty?

3) Isaac Asimov on Creativity.

4) The Next Generation Of Female Screenwriters... are here *now*!

5) David Fincher's DP With SIX Tips For Low Budget Cinematography.

6) Everything You Need To Know About Digital Cameras!

7) Ted has Hope that HBO & Netflix will lead to quality films.

8) My Portland pal Daniel Wilson says ROBOPOCALYPSE is on Spielberg's schedule.

9) Someone else I know: Larry Wilson on BEETLEJUICE sequel!

10) Keanu On JOHN WICK! Your Must See Film!

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Okay, horror movie chase scenes...


The 13 Days Of Halloween:

So, I'm not usually one for remakes - and I'm a big fan of Romero's original DAWN OF THE DEAD because it's all about how consumerism has turned us all into zombies wandering through the mall mindlessly shopping - but the 2004 remake with a script by SLITHER's James Gunn works on its own terms. When I first did my Horror Screenwriting class at the Raindance Film Festival in London, I didn't bring any clips... but *did* have the DVD of DAWN OF THE DEAD in my luggage, and found an illustration of almost every point I was going to make in the film.

The opening scene is *textbook* horror - we start out in suburbia on a normal morning...

As you can see, in very little time we have gone from order to chaos, and the police and authorities are powerless, and the monster could be anyone - the little girl next door, the man you love - ANYONE. You are not safe.

The great thing about zombie movies is that they take people you know and love and turn them into monsters, which creates a huge emotional turmoil for the protagonist(s). You love them... but they want to kill you - what do you do? You have to kill them, but...

- Bill

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

When I was a kid this was one of my favorite movies... because it was funny *and* scary. And it was so scary when I was a kid that parts of it were seen through the fingers covering my eyes. Though Bob Hope had made a comedy horror film before, this is the movie that does it best - and I think inspires most of the others. The great thing about the film is that it never makes fun of the monsters and treats the horror elements seriously. So there are *real* scares.

Universal studios had their two big box office draws fading fast - the monsters from their monster movie series and their comedy team Abbott & Costello - and some genius at the studio decided to combine them in the kind of "MEETS" movie that we might come up with as a joke today (HANGOVER MEETS JASON?). But the studio wanted to protect their monsters and not have them ridiculed, and that resulted in a great film where the comedy team ends up in a horror movie and cracks jokes in response to the situations. They never laugh at the monsters - they never make fun of them... they are real, and the conflict - the danger - is the fuel for the gags.

In that clip Lou Costello is not making fun of Dracula - he believes in him! He believes he is real danger.

In my horror class I talk about this film, and how the comedy makes the horror more frightening and the horror makes the comedy more funny. They compliment each other. In successful modern horror comedies they treat the horror elements seriously - but the characters are funny. Everything from PIRANHA to THE HOWLING to AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to SLITHER to BLACK SHEEP to SHAUN OF THE DEAD to SCREAM keep the scares real but has funny characters making jokes while they are in danger.

(My first produced script, the Oscar nominated NINJA BUSTERS, was inspired by this film... and even has a version of the Dracula coffin scene above... just with Ninjas.)

I don't remember whether the first time I saw this film as a kid was on TV or at one of the Bob Wilkins Creature Features roadshow screenings he did during the summer at the middle school behind my house. They would take over the multipurpose room and show films for kids and raffle off prizes. I'm sure the purpose was to keep us from getting into trouble, but these films were an important part of my life growing up. We didn't have much money when I was a kid so the only time I ever saw a movie was either at the drive in (reflected off the back window of the car while I was *supposed* to be asleep on the back seat) or those rare times we saw a Disney film at the cinema where my Aunt Norma worked (she'd sneak us in). But just going to the movies? Didn't happen. So these weekly summer showings were like heaven - it was all of the kids from my neighborhood - all of my friends (Mickey Gillan, Mike Webb, Bob Hayes, John Thomas, etc) and we'd sit together and scream at the monsters and laugh at the jokes. Once I won an autographed picture of Godzilla!

Now that I'm writing movies, I often write funny horror movies inspired by ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN...

- Bill

PS: Here's John Landis talking about the film on TRAILERS FROM HELL:

Friday, October 24, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning was one of the most gifted silent directors, with films like THE UNHOLY THREE and THE UNKNOWN to his credit when he was hired to direct DRACULA - which became a massive hit. His follow up movie pretty much ended his career. FREAKS was his pet project, a story that takes place in a carnival freak show and starred actual freaks. Even though this was a pre-code movie (no censorship or ratings existed for films) the studio demanded that it be cut and cut and cut... and the version released was too disturbing for the audience at the time. The film was officially banned in England and unofficially banned in the United States (MGM locked it away) until the late 60s, early 70s when the legend of the film resulted in some prints and a midnight showings... and a new audience. I saw it sometime in the late 70s, and it was most disturbing.

A Fan Made Trailer...

The film is now part of our culture - the "Gobble-Gobble One Of Us" scene pops up in everything from SOUTH PARK to DePalma's SISTERS. Interesting that DePalma was inspired by the film for SISTERS because the story has some similarities to CARRIE which he would also direct...

The freak show for a travelling carnival are like a family - they all watch out for each other. The film shows you the every day life of the freaks - and it's fascinating. The Human Torso - a guy with no arms or legs - lights his own cigarette. Armless woman uses her feet as hands. The Siamese Twins date. When hot trapeeze artist Cleopatra learns that midget Hans is rich, she seduces him, marries him... and then slowly poisons him so that she can inherit his fortune and run away with the Strong Man. Only, what you do to one of the Freaks, you do to all... and they may seem harmless, but they get their revenge for being abused by Cleopatra and the Strong Man.

One of us...

Like CARRIE, the film is a slow build to a big finish when they get their revenge... but that end is the stuff of nightmares!

- Bill

Today's Amazon ranking:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Don't Look Now (1973)

Fridays With Hitchcock has included three films like REBECCA based on a novel by Daphne DuMaurier... and this film is also based on one of her stories (like THE BIRDS). And here we have another one of my favorite directors Nic Roeg - who began as a cinematographer on films like Richard Lester's brilliant PETULIA starring the always beautiful Julie Christie... who also stars in DON'T LOOK NOW along with Donald Sutherland. This is one of those creepy movies that gets under your skin - you may watch it and only be scared at the end and think it's not so bad... but days later it will flash back into your memory.

And memory is what the film is about - Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie lose their little girl in a tragic accident and it tears them apart. Sutherland takes a job in Venice, Italy - hoping that they can use the time away from home to put their marriage back together again. But everywhere he looks in Venice he keeps seeing his dead daughter... and the two strange women they meet in a restaurant have seen her, too. One is psychic - and has seen their daughter's ghost. Oh, and there is a serial killer on the loose in Venice as well - bodies popping up everywhere. All of these things are connected, but we don't understand the connection until the very end.

Roeg is an amazing stylist - he loves to connect elements by *image* instead of chronology. This gives the film a poetic feel. It's a beautiful horror film. Oh, and there's a famous sex scene that rumor has it was not staged but real. This is not a *scary* film, it's a *creepy* one.

- Bill

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Black Christmas (1974)

Before there was John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN there was Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie. I caught this at a drive in on a double bill with Larry Cohen's IT'S ALIVE - and IT'S ALIVE was the "A" feature! But this film really creeped me out, and also had me laughing outloud. Margot Kidder's phone number had me laughing for months - because this was a time when people didn't say things like that in the movies.

But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS.

The great thing about this film - other than the call coming from inside the house - is the way the characters turn against each other when the bodies begin to pop up. Also a great cast - Olivia Hussey who was Juliet in ROMEO & JULIET plays the lead, Keir Dullea from some damned Kubrick movie was her boyfriend, John Saxon plays the cop in a horror movie for the first time, Andrea Martin from SECOND CITY is one of the gals, Margot Kidder is *hot* as one of the other gals - she had already starred in Brian DePalma's SISTERS and the next year would play the female lead in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER opposite some guy named Redford. SISTERS is coming up in a couple of days...

What the heck, I love Larry Cohen, so let's look at the trailer for the "A" film on the double bill many years ago...

What I love about Larry Cohen movies is that the guy always has a social or political message in his weirdass horror films. His films like THE STUFF are complete cult flicks, but underneath it all are about something important. Here we have mutant killer babies caused by prescription drug side effects - kind of the ultimate Thalidomide baby. By the time Cohen got to IT'S ALIVE 3: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE he was doing a cult horror film that dealt with AIDS babies (except they were the killer mutant babies in the series).

He's one of my favorite filmmakers and one of those prolific screenwriters who is hit and miss - but when he hits he knocks it out of the park. Still alive and kicking and making films. He wrote PHONE BOOTH and CELLULAR! His last screenwriting credit was a couple of years ago... but his first writing credit was 1958. Oh, and he created the TV show THE INVADERS.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: EVERY STORY ASKS A QUESTION - Is yours asking the *right* question?
Dinner: Chicken, potatos, corn at Boston Market.
Pages: Almost finished another chapter - but got sidetracked.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Night Of The Living Dead

One of the other films I first saw on Bob Wilkins' Creature Features was the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – and it freaked me out! I think it freaked out everyone who saw it, and basically created the modern zombie film. Before that, Zombies were from Haiti and under the spell of a Voodoo Priest... after NOTLD zombies were flesh eating undead friends and relatives. The reason this works even today is because it takes regular people and turns them into the monsters. You can not trust *anyone*. The person sitting next to you in the cinema or on the sofa in your living room can turn into a flesh eating goul!

When I was a kid I used to scare the crap out of my little sister by saying “I am the monster!” - and the idea that someone you know and love can suddenly turn into a monster is at the heart of many horror films. In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Barbara and her brother go to visit their father's grave on the same day a satellite from Venus crashes in the country side and brings the dead back to life... a harmless old man puts the bite on her brother, killing him... Barbara eventually runs into her brother Johnny again - but now he's a mindless zombie with a taste for human flesh. The people who you love have lost their free will and have turned into monsters! "They're dead! They're all messed up!" Some of the other survivors in the farm house, Cooper and his wife, watch their cute little daughter slowly turning into a monster... then she attacks Cooper and eats him! When mom tries to stop her, she attacks and eats her, too. You can't reason with these zombies, all you can do is shoot them in the head or burn them. And if one bites you? You lose your free will and start thinking of your friends and loved ones as lunch. That's a scary core concept!

The other element of NOTLD is the gore factor – which was way beyond anything I had ever seen at that time... and is even pushing the envelope by today's standards. Of course, the guts they eat are animal parts – but even *that* is pretty sick! Though Romero has said the casting of Duane Jones as the lead was not intended to make a racial point, the timing was in the film's favor – it hit at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and showed a hick sheriff killing an innocent African American man – our hero!

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the ultimate in friends turning against you. You can't trust anyone, because they may turn into a zombie. Kids attack and eat their own parents! Don't see it with someone you love... you'll wonder about them later.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: HIGH CONCEPT... OR HIGH STAKES? - Global or Personal stakes.
Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad to make up for all of the junk I've been eating lately.
Pages: Finished a chapter on the Action Book!

Today's Amazon Rank:
eXTReMe Tracker