Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dead Reckoning and Dark Passage

A Bogart double bill I saw at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater a few years ago. There are some interesting lessons here, as well as my review and appreciation. Since I mentioned DARK PASSAGE in yesterday's Trailer Tuesday, *and* mentioned the screenwriter of DEAD RECKONING, thought I'd rerun this today. Plus there's some info on the writers of both films...


DARK PASSAGE and DEAD RECKONING.



I had seen both before (I think I’ve seen every Bogart movie on the big screen at least once) but not in a long time. I have posted on this very blog about DARK PASSAGE before - it’s a great film, even though I did not own it on DVD until after seeing it on the big screen again. I remembered it as being a good one, and I have read the novel. David Goodis is one of those great Noir writers, darker than dark. His stories are bleak and contain all of those D Words that make Noir fiction a genre. Now (2014) I'm getting ready to rewatch a couple of other films based on his books, MOON IN THE GUTTER and NIGHTFALL and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. Back when I wrote this entry, DEAD RECKONING was a fuzzy memory - but it was the one with Lizabeth Scott, and gets a mention in Woody Allen’s PLAY IT AGAIN SAM... can’t be bad, right?

DARK PASSAGE


The house lights go down, and some great Franz Waxman music begins (it is a week later, and I still can not get that music out of my head!) And the WB shield appears on the screen. I love Warner Bros movies - they were gritty when other films were glossy. Even their big Busby Berkeley musicals were about some broke composer and some out of work chorus girl who team up and put on a hit show that saves some theater.

DARK PASSAGE - based on a novel by the amazing Dave Goodis, produced by Jerry Wald (ex-screenwriter - back then they promoted *writers* to producer jobs and studio head of production), written and directed by Delmer Daves (DESTINATION TOKYO), starring Bogart & Bacall and Agnes Moorehead and lots of Warner Bros bit players.



The film opens with escape from San Quentin that is shot POV from the lead character (Bogart) - we never see him... just what he sees. Though the first 65 minutes of the film are from the lead character’‘s POV, and we don’t see Bogart’s face for that entire time, it isn’t 100% POV - it’s a combo of shots of POV and wide and long shots. So the film actually opens with a shot of a garbage truck filled with garbage cans leaving San Quentin Prison... then a pair of hands come out of a garbage can, and they rock it off the back of the truck. POV from inside the can as it rolls down the hill, then a great shot from *inside* the can as the prisoner crawls out, gets his footing, and escapes...

From there on it’s POV from the prisoner - as he ditches his prison shirt, hides from a dozen police on motorcycles looking for him, etc. He *hops a fence* to the road to hitch a ride - amazing stuff. Can you imagine trying to hoist one of those huge old 35mm cameras over the fence with some actor’s arms in your way (as the prisoner’s arms).

He gets picked up by a grifter... and they hear the radio report about the escaped convict! Great POV shot from our convict hero Vince Parry (voiced by Bogart) as the grifter hears the convict’s description and looks up and down at *us* - type of shoes, color of eyes, hair, etc. *We* punch the grifter and escape... and then we are picked up by Bacall, who has some connection to the convict... but what?



Bacall lets him hide out at her place, furnishes him with new clothes, and takes care of him... why? She won’t tell him. Vince was convicted of murdering his wife, has always claimed he was innocent, was convicted to life in prison, and now the only way to have a normal life is to find the real killer before the police catch up with him for escaping San Quentin. But how can he do that with his face on the cover of every newspaper?

Vince gets some back alley plastic surgery in some really dirty tenement where the doctor had his license yanked years ago... very similar to the scene in MINORITY REPORT. The doctor is this crazy guy, who tells him that a botched surgery could make him look like a bulldog... or worse. Does Vince have a place to stay? He’s not supposed to move for a while after the surgery, and needs someone who will take care of him. Well, Vince has already contacted his oldest friend who always believed he was innocent, who will take care of him after the surgery.

But when Vince is dropped off there after the surgery he finds his friend murdered - whoever actually killed Vince’s wife is getting rid of anyone who Vince can go to for help. So Vince has no choice but to *walk* across San Francisco right after surgery - climbing endless flights of stairs (those ones under Coit Tower) to Bacall’s apartment building. She takes him in again....



Okay - 65 minutes into the film, the bandages come off and we see the movie star's face for the very first time. Imagine doing that in a modern film. For half the film we do not see the star's face! While Bacall is slowly taking off the bandages there is this fear that he will look like a bulldog... or worse. But he looks just like Humphrey Bogart! After he looks in the mirror, we ditch the POV stuff and the last half of the movie is a Bogart & Bacall crime film.

I had mis-remembered the film (or maybe this is what happened in the book, which I read about a decade ago) - but I thought after he got the plastic surgery he re-enters his old life with his new face and gets to question all of his old friends about himself and see himself from their POV... and gets to hear what people really think about him. Though that’s touched on in a scene of the film, it really isn’t explored much because the last half of the story picks up speed and is action-action-twist-action! Relentless pacing, and some *savage* plot twists!



Bogart finds the one guy who can prove he's innocent, the guy fights him, the guy goes off a cliff and splats. No way to prove himself innocent! I'm not going to spoil the film with all of the other characters who die - but some *shocking* unexpected deaths in this film. Everyone who can help him prove that he didn’t kill his wife ends up dead. So not only do we not see the movie star’s face for the first 65 minutes, the film manages to kill off people that usually do not get killed off in a film like this. Lots of “you can’t do that in a movie!” scenes.

The film still works - is clever and has shocking twists and a great Franz Waxman score and really well done suspense scenes (one is almost a French Farce - with everyone wanting to go into the room where Bogart is hiding) - and fantastic San Francisco location work. Though San Francisco stuff was probably 2nd unit - the film feels like it was all shot there. You get a real feel for the city, and the film uses some interesting locations that you wouldn’t see in a film that just used the tourist locations.

A little side note on the novelist, David Goodis - in print he was the king of downer noir. A few months ago I read his “lost” novel THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN about a drunk and his wife on holiday in some Caribbean country... and while the husband is drinking and whoring, his wife starts screwing some other dude... and then everybody dies. He’s best known for DARK PASSAGE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (filmed by Truffaut) and NIGHTFALL (made into another great noir film) and STREET OF NO RETURN and MOON IN THE GUTTER and CASSIDY’S GIRL and THE BURGLAR (which was made into the film THE BURGLARS which I featured some great stunt clips from in the blog entry “I Do My Own Stunts”). As a writer, he was famous for his crazy practical jokes - he would fall down stairs at movie studios and fake nose bleeds and do all kinds of things that seemed to upset studio folks. He was a loose canon in a fun way.



He also is famous for probably being the creator of THE FUGITIVE TV series... After the show aired, he sued that the show was swiped from DARK PASSAGE - the escaped man sentenced for murder who is searching for the real killer. By the time the lawsuit got to court, Goodis was dead and so were all of his relatives... and they settled with the lawyer for the estate for $12k! Stall long enough and everyone is dead and the people left standing don’t really care!

DARK PASSAGE is a darned good film, and if you have ever walked with me through an underground parking garage with one of those overhead signs that tells you the head clearance, you know Goodis is a major influence on my practical joking. Whack! Ouch, my head!

DEAD RECKONING


After the intermission, half the audience was gone... and they lowered the lights and began the second film. Columbia Pictures - not a good omen. Where Warner Bros was gritty and real, Columbia was glossy and trying their damnedest to look like MGM, just without the money or stars that MGM had. This could be a good thing when you had a noir film like GILDA which is about exotic night club singers and has a Gay subtext - the glossy look fit that story. It could also work when you had some crazy maverick like Orson Welles making a wacked out noir film like LADY FROM SHANGHAI, but your standard crime film? Um, the style didn’t always match the subject matter.

And DEAD RECKONING seemed like a soap opera with some shoot outs. Where DARK PASSAGE was gritty and real, DEAD RECKONING was glossy and had way too much kissing. Also, seemed to be made of parts of much better movies. There's a scene from THE MALTESE FALCON, and a scene from OUT OF THE PAST and a scene from...

DEAD RECKONING was directed by James Cromwell (PRISONER OF ZENDA, SINCE YOU WENT AWAY) and is glossy and pretty to look at. Script by Oliver Garrett (DEUL IN THE SUN, MANHATTAN MELODRAMA) and the great Steve Fisher (I WAKE UP SCREAMING and that other POV movie LADY IN THE LAKE). But the script is a mess - all over the place and making no sense at times.

Story starts with a beaten up Bogart confessing to a Priest - and flashback to the story... but we come out of flashback at end act 2... and Bogart goes to kick ass in present time. Except - not much ass-kicking. Lots of kissing though - as if someone thought people went to Bogart movies to watch him kiss Liz Scott.

He's paratrooper Rip Murdock on his way with best bud Johnny Drake to pick up Congressional Medals of Honor, when Drake splits. He jumps off the train and disappears. Why? Bogart tracks him down to Miami type city, where Drake is wanted for murdering his girlfriend's husband. But just when he catches up with Drake, Drake is murdered, too. Burned to a crisp in a suspicious single car accident. Bogart decides to investigate and get revenge for Drake’s murder... which requires him to kiss Liz Scott a lot. A lot. I mean, a lot. A whole lot. Take the number of kissing scenes you would expect in a revenge movie and multiply by ten. Okay, now add two more.




Here’s the thing about all of these kissing scenes - there may actually have been just as many kissing scenes in DARK PASSAGE (though I doubt it) but *those* kissing scenes were part of the story, part of what the characters would naturally do. In RECKONING they just kiss whenever they are in the same room with each other. It’s like they were trying to make this into a love story by adding more kissing instead of actually having a love story subplot. So it’s probably not so much that they kiss a lot as much as they just kiss for no real reason and kind of unexpectedly and without motivation.

Imagine a whole bunch of kissing scenes in a Steven Seagal film...

Liz Scott was the woman whose husband Bogart’s buddy Drake may have killed to hook up with... but there are also these mobsters who seemed to wander in from THE BIG SLEEP and some MALTESE FALCON femme-fatale scenes and other scenes from other movies and a story that goes all over the place... eventually coming to an end involving napalm used indoors. Not a good idea, by the way.

Strange problem with DEAD RECKONING is the dialogue - something might be set up in one scene, and then the dialogue doesn't pay it back - when it seems obvious that that's what was supposed to happen in this scene. I suspect the two screenwriters may have been working at cross-purposes - maybe one writing a crime film and the other writing a big soapy romance. It has big time tone problems - with some soap opera stuff and then some violent action scene. And the cute nicknames aren't cute in this film, and many of the gags fall flat - with lots of glossy photography of kissing.

Now, when I was a little kid, I thought that kissing girls was for sissys. But the problem with the kissing in DEAD RECKONING is that it all seems so forced. Oh, and Scott's singing is so poorly dubbed you don't believe it for a second - unlike the Andy Williams (minus the bear) singing for Bacall in BIG SLEEP. Originally Rita Hayworth was to play the female lead in this flick, but she split to play the femme fatale in her husband’s movie LADY FROM SHANGHAI and they got stuck with Lizabeth Scott who looks *older* than Bogart and has no lip syncing abilities.

Anyway, DEAD RECKONING seems like a mis-fire - a movie trying to be Noir but also trying to be some glossy soap opera thing. Not an unwatchable movie - but not very good. Fine for a Saturday afternoon on TCM, not fine on Saturday night on the big screen with your legs scrunched up under your neck because there is no legroom in the Billy Wilder Theater. I think the gloss worked against it - makes it seem like a big budget A movie with a sleazy B movie revenge action plot.

Okay, since I gave a quick bio of David Goodis, here’s some info on the co-screenwriter of DEAD RECKONING, Steve Fisher. I’m sure they brought in Fisher for the noir stuff, since he was one of those great noir writers you’ve probably never heard of. Like Goodis he was a novelist who worked on and off as a screenwriter on B movies. His novel I WAKE UP SCREAMING was made into a great noir film with Victor Mature, and that probably put Fisher on the map. SCREAMING is about a hot starlet whose best friend is murdered by a maniac, and she thinks the maniac is now stalking her. She goes to the cops, and the detective in charge of the case is... the man stalking her! And he’s trying to frame Mature for the murder... and now Mature and the hot starlet have to get the proof that the detective is the killer. Um, no one wants to believe them about that. Great concept - what if you went to the police, but a policeman was the killer? Fisher’s crime novels ended up getting him back into screenwriting, where he wrote a bunch of crime films like the all POV film LADY IN THE LAKE and one of the THIN MAN series. Many of his novels have been reprinted recently by Hard Case Press. There was this period in time when Pulp Novels and Pulp Movies intersected and the guy who wrote some throw away crime novel might also write some throw away crime movie.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Bumper Sticker Dialogue - and THE PROFESSIONALS.
Dinner: Togos - hummus sandwich with BBQ sauce... messy!
Pages: Working on the rewrite of the assignment, trying to get it finished and out of the way before I lose momentum on this other script.
Bicycle: Yes. Short bike ride to coffee shop that is not as crowded.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lancelot Link: Mega Time Waster Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! April is over! The first *third* of 2014 is done! Is it better not to think about that? Or better to realize we need to get off our butts and get to work? While you are deciding, here are some time wasters! 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 *fifteen* links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 The Other Woman...... $24,700,000
2 Captain America 2.... $16,048,000
3 Heaven Is Real....... $13,800,000
4 Rio 2................ $13,650,000
5 Brick Mansions........ $9,600,000
6 Transcendence......... $4,105,000
7 Quiet Ones............ $4,000,000
8 Bears................. $3,606,000
9 Divergent............. $3,600,000
10 Haunted House 2....... $3,265,000


2) Early STAR WARS Storyboards.

3) Screenwriter With An Unusual Day Job.

4) The Twenty Five Most Unreliable Narrators In Film History.

5) Who Is To Blame For TRANSCENDENCE Flopping?

6) A Stack Of Films That Haven't Been Released.

7) 11 Most Important *Political* Science Fiction Films.

8) Andy Warhol Interviews Alfred Hitchcock!

9) Screenwriter Steven Knight on LOCKE! He wrote DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, one of my favorites.

10) Adapting Henry James? Or Airing Dirty Laundry?

11) This Dude's Hobby Has To Do With The Movie SPEED...

12) James Patterson On How To Write A Story You Can't Put Down!

13) Writers Up For The GONE WITH THE WIND Gig?

14) Altman On THE LONG GOODBYE (script included!).

15) The Lost Art Of Lurid VHS Covers!

And The Car Chase Of The Week...



Bill



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Script Killer Notes!

From 2009...

When I learned how to drive, I was taught to not just pay attention to the car in front of me (and the cars beside me and behind me) but look far enough ahead on the road to be prepared for whatever might come my way. If there’s a big accident ten cars down the road, I need to be prepared for that. If there’s a swerving driver a dozen cars ahead of me, I need to start worrying about *why* that driver swerved - what’s in the road that will soon be in *my* way? I have a rule when I’m driving on the freeway (like I-5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area) - better to have a reckless driver *behind me* than in front of me.

Of course, many people in Los Angeles seem to be more interested in talking on their iPhones and eating soup and texting their new screenplay idea than keeping their eyes on the traffic in front of them. Many people have no idea what’s happening more than a car in front of them, because they’re not even paying that much attention to the car in front of them. One day, I’m driving down Santa Monica between Westwood and Century City - and see the cars in front of me stopping... so I slow down and stop. But the left lane is empty, and a car speeds past... and hits the old man in the crosswalk. That’s why the other lanes were stopped, but this driver wasn’t looking ahead nor thinking ahead. The pedestrian was alive when the ambulance took him away... the driver told the police he never saw the guy in the crosswalk. Of course he didn’t - he wasn’t looking that far ahead. Many people in Los Angeles live for the moment... and never think about the moments after that.

What the hell does this have to do with screenwriting?

Well, as writers, part of our job is to see the whole story, and be able to see the chain reaction some script change might make. Actually, that should be everybody’s job on the film - especially the people *giving* the notes... but for some reason they don’t kick the short sighted development execs and producers and directors out of Hollywood... or at least prevent them from giving script notes. Because this biz is filled with people who can’t see the effect a note will have ten pages from now, let alone throughout the rest of the script. The problem is, the note that you and I can see just won’t work, they can’t see... and often want you to “just give it a try”. Hey, why not? It’s only work... work that *you* are doing while they play tennis and come up with more notes that we can see have no chance of working.

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Of course, part of our job is to be a good typing monkey and do even the rewrites that we know are pointless. William Goldman tells a story in ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE about working with a director who wanted Goldman to give him “all of the riches” - which is director code for write all kinds of stuff that will never end up in the final draft, and the director will pick and choose which scenes he wants to keep. I’ve worked with directors like that - they have you write hundreds of pages of scenes and then whittle it down to 110 pages that they will shoot.

There are two schools of directors, by the way: movies and TV. A movie director has a plan (often storyboards) and shoots the shots they need to make the movie. A TV director shoots a ton of footage and then figures out which shots he (or she) is going to use in the editing room. Live TV and most sitcoms are shot with multiple cameras and they piece it together in the editing room (or on the editing console). Movies tend to be scheduled and planned, and shot over a period of time (rather than a live performance like a sitcom). But many film directors either come from TV or just fly by the seat of their pants and have no idea what they are shooting until they shoot it, and may not even know what the movie will be until they edit it.

I would rather work with someone who knows what they want than work with someone who knows what they want when they see it... which means after you write a dozen different things that weren’t it. But you usually don’t know which kind of director you’re working with until it’s too late. And there are plenty of producers and development people out there who want you to give them “all of the riches” - and you do draft after draft after draft that weren’t it. (Though I don’t believe a writer has only so many scripts in them and then they run out or something, I do only have so much time on this earth and could get hit by a bus tomorrow... and would rather write stuff that has a snowball’s chance of getting on screen (like a new spec) than something that has no chance at all (like that version of the script with the director’s wild idea that you know just will not work). Do you know how many spec scripts I could have written instead of all of the drafts I knew wouldn’t work before I wrote them.

But, like I said, my job is to write. And if I want to keep getting hired to write, I need to be a good employee. One who doesn’t say things like, “That’s the dumbest note I’ve ever heard!” Though I might be able to see far enough down the road to know the note won’t work, my job is to write it anyway and let the producer or director or development person see what I already know.

One of the things that directors and producers and development people often don’t understand is that you have already considered the change they are suggesting - you looked down that road when you were outlining the script and realized it was a dead end or the scenery wasn’t as interesting. You looked down hundreds of different roads - every scene, every line, every action in a script is a fork in the road - and you’ve looked at the different ways your script might go and combinations of ways it might go, and already selected the best possible route. You know where their changes lead and your road is better. But some folks need to see that for themselves... and my job is to write up that version.

You get all kinds of notes, crazy notes, and it’s your job is write them up. You have to pick your battles when it comes to notes, and discuss the notes that you mildly disagree with and when you get a note that will completely ruin your script - strongly disagree with the note and explain *logically* and *calmly* why the note will take the script in the wrong direction. In fact, if you can explain why it will lose the producer money you’ll have a much better chance of winning the battle than if you argue based on art or craft or character or quality. Money talks. But sometimes (well, maybe even usually) you don’t win these debates and end up ruining your own script (or quitting, and some other writer comes in to not only ruin it but completely change it into *their* script). A writer’s job is to write... and sometimes make the changes that break your heart.

When you get a bad note, you might think you should *not* give it your best work and *try* to make that version of the script suck. But I've learned that executing the note poorly always backfires - there is still a sex scene in CRASH DIVE. I thought for sure once they saw how silly that sex scene was (on a submarine where the crew is 110 *men* and no women... except the one in the sex scene) they would want it removed. I went out of my way to carefully write the end of the scene before the sex scene and the beginning if the scene after the sex scene so that they cut together *prefectly*. That way the scene could be removed without harming the script. And when it stayed in the script and they actually filmed it, I thought for sure it would be cut out before the movie aired on HBO. The network wanted the sex scene in the script, but sooner or later they had to realize it was stupid, right? They had to cut it out before they put it on the air, right? Wrong. They want what they want and if you write the crap version, that’s the version they will film.

And if they *do* notice you have done a crappy job of executing their brilliant note? That’s often a good way to get replaced by someone who doesn't care.... and will make enough changes to not only claim a screenwriting credit but completely destroy your script. So I will give a note I don’t agree with my very best shot and really try to make it work... even though I know it can't work. You try to make it work - and that’s your job.

NOTES THAT KILL

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But every once in a while I get a "script killer" note - one that will destroy the screenplay. One that you can not ever make work. One that *no one* can ever make work. Can the hero and villain just be friends and stop fighting? Got that one about three times, now. Can all of the characters talk and act the same? Had that a couple of times. Does there have to be a resolution to the conflict? I’ve got that a couple of times. Does there have to be a conflict? You would think that no one would ever give you that note, but I’ve had it a couple of times. Do the characters have to be motivated - why can't it just be a bunch of coincidences?

I have a friend who had a director order him to change all of the dialogue into cliches because "People understand cliches". He suspected this director *only* understood cliches. You get these notes, and try to find some reason for them - and often there is not. The problem with the notes that remove conflict or motivation or make the script bland and boring or remove the “engine that runs the machine” is that they are script killers. Story is conflict - remove conflict and you permanently damage the script. It will not work. The story dies. These are notes that can never work - and you don’t even have to see that far down the road to figure it out.

You would think that “script killer notes” are rare, but I get them all too often.

A couple of years ago on a project that eventually died, the producer and I had a meeting with a director I was in awe of - one of his films is a classic. I was not worthy. He the usual list of silly notes and notes that I knew would not work... but he also had a couple of script killer notes: Can we remove the emotional conflict? Why does the story conflict need to be resolved at all? Does there have to be an antagonist? Why does one event have to cause another - can’t it all just be a series of coincidence? After the meeting the producer asked how I was going to make those notes work, and I said I did not know - but this was a big director, I wanted him to direct my script, I was going to find the way to make the notes work. I struggled, could not find a way to make the notes work. You can’t remove the conflict and have a story, or make the story a series of coincidence and have it still work. I called the producer and explained my problems trying to make the notes work - and (for once) the producer understood. He thought the notes wouldn’t work when the director came up with them. I asked if he might call the director and ask what the reason behind the notes might be (because I could not figure it out). Sometimes a note is about the symptom, not the disease - and that throws you off. Well, the producer called director and asked him what his reasons were for the (script killer) notes. And the director answered, "Because I'm the director and that's what I want." Producer, bless him, said: No, you are not the director. And the project died.

Usually they don't die, they get turned into crap then filmed.

I have this script called STEEL CHAMELEONS about a Westworld-ish theme park with androids that have "liquid skin technology". Say you want to sleep with Angelina Jolie - if she's in the android's program it becomes Angelina Jolie. Or if you're interested in Russell Crowe, it turns into an anatomically correct Russell Crowe. No chance of diseases, they hose them down afterwards.

Well, with a minor upgrade, these things can change into people not on the program - they touch you, they can look just like you. And some bad guys come up with a scheme.

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The script is kind of like Carpenter's THE THING or INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS - you don't know who is real and who is one of them. There's a scene where one replicates a Senator, and our hero (and agent with Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Androids) doesn't know which one is real - and both insist they are the real one. There's a scene where he's chasing one with a distinctive look... into a crowd, and the android disappears - none of the people in the crowd have that look. And there's an infiltration of the hero's team. And a character who seems to die... but it's really an android that looks like them, and they are still alive. Basically, anything that has to do with duplicate people is used in the script. When it was written (ages ago) the idea was to use a handful of morphs, and the rest is just actors playing androids. Cheap!

So a couple of years ago it gets read by a production company who claim to love it, and they have a meeting with me, and the big cheese has this note: Just a minor change, he wants all of the androids to look like the androids from I ROBOT.

Because I'm oddly practical, I ask if they can afford to do all of that CGI, and he says they'll have to cross that bridge when they come to it, but there have to be all kinds of unemployed CGI people who will work for pennies...

And I asked if he was talking about the androids looking like robots just in the factory scenes (where they didn't have to replicate anyone as part of the story) and he said, No - in every single scene. All of them. The androids throughout the film will look just like the androids in I ROBOT... and the whole liquid skin thing would be dropped.

Now, I suspect the note under the note here is that this guy really liked the androids in I ROBOT. If it was about the trailer or production value, the factory androids would have solved that. But it was something else...

And that note would ruin the entire script - it *could not work* with that note. The *concept* was androids who could replicate specific people and take over their lives to infiltrate places and do very bad things. If the androids couldn’t replicate specific important people and do very bad things, there is no story. And the "cool stuff" was all of the scenes where the hero couldn't tell who was real and who was an android. So I turned down the sale and walked... but wondered what would have happened if they had bought the script, *then* given me this note. How could I have ever made it work? The “engine that runs the machine” is that these androids can look like anyone, can infiltrate even the most heavily guarded location... they could replicate the President of the United States! How would you know he was an android if he looked and sounded and acted just like the President? And had his fingerprints.

When you get a note like this *after* they’ve bought your script you wonder why they bought it in the first place - isn’t there some other android script out there where the androids look like the ones from I ROBOT? Why don’t they buy that one and ruin it? And why can’t they see that they are taking a reasonably cool idea and making it either something bland and something that just can not work. Because once I change the androids into obvious robots, the whole infiltration thing doesn’t work, so we’ll need a new plot... and we have these machine looking androids, so it’s probably going to end up some story where the androids battle the humans and... well, isn’t that I ROBOT? It’s my experience that many bad notes are there to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear - they sand off all of the creative and interesting parts and then take the mess that’s left and turn it into something they’ve already seen. They kill the script... and either film the corpse or try to Frankenstein some sort of script from the dead parts... and that usually doesn’t work either.

When I get one of these notes, I want to ask if they are out of their fucking minds. But, you can’t really ask that... because they probably are. Many in Hollywood are, you know. You want to fight the note to the death... but that’s a good way to get fired off your own script. You want to grab the producer or director or development person and shake them... but I suspect that would land me in jail. You want to ask how they could be so stupid, but that’s not going to earn you any points, either. And the big problem is, even if you make your case and lose it and then do the very best job you can trying to write a script where the serial killer and FBI profiler don’t fight each other and are friends who pal around and there is no conflict at all in the screenplay... that script will suck big time and you’ll get fired and some other writer will be hired because you just weren’t creative enough to make it work. And then that writer will be fired and the next writer will be fired and the whole project will crash and burn and never get made... and after all of that pain and work and heart-ache... you won’t get your production bonus.

I don't know the answer to this question of how to deal with Script Killer notes. Suspect I never will.

- Bill

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scenes Blue Book is new!

Buy The DVD!



12 New Ways To Create New Scenes... Transitions... and much, much more!

Great screenplays are made of great scenes, memorable scenes. Who can forget Cary Grant being chased through the cornfield by that crop duster? Or Gene Kelly singing in the rain? Or Indiana Jones facing that huge swordsman in the marketplace... and shooting him? Director Howard Hawks (“The Big Sleep”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Rio Bravo”) famously said, “A film needs three great scenes and no bad ones”. But how do you create those great scenes?

This Blue Book will help you tune up those tired scenes! We’ll look at what a scene is and how many you will need. The difference between scenes and sluglines. How long should your scenes be, and what is *too long*? We will put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using examples like “Jaws” we’ll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. What is driving your scene? Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. We will even talk to a famous director about creating memorable scenes.

But that’s not all! There are 12 ways to create new scenes. How to create unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes with excitement. Using plants and payoffs in scenes. Taking your scenes to the limit. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important “flow”... and more! Over 65,000 words!

Click Here For More Info!

THE TABLE OF CONTENTS...

  • SCENES WE’D LIKE TO SEE

  • WHAT IS A SCENE?

  • MAKING A SCENE

  • SET PIECES

  • HIGH CONCEPT SCENES

  • ROBERT RODRIGUEZ ON MEMORABLE SCENES

  • A DOZEN WAYS TO CREATE NEW SCENES

  • UNEXPECTED!

  • SCENES THAT DO IT ALL

  • DRAMATIC TENSION

  • WHAT GOES AROUND

  • TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT

  • POINT OF VIEW IN SCENES

  • TRANSITIONS

  • CONCLUSIONS

    Bill
  • Monday, April 21, 2014

    Lancelot Link: 4/21 Edition

    Lancelot Link Monday! So, when Easter is on 4/20, what is the day after Easter like? Did you plow through everything in your Easter basket already? 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 Captain America 2.... $26,612,000
    2 Rio 2................ $22,500,000
    3 Heaven Is Real....... $21,500,000
    4 Transcendence........ $11,150,000
    5 Haunted House 2....... $9,100,000
    6 Draft Day............. $5,900,000
    7 Divergent............. $5,750,000
    8 Occulus............... $5,202,000
    9 Noah.................. $5,000,000
    10 God's Not Dead........ $4,801,000


    2) Luc Besson on Strong Female Leads.

    3) Gareth Edwards on working with REALLY big stars.

    4) Bill Paxton on all of those AVATAR sequels.

    2) Orson Welles' New Film!

    2) A Stack Of MOvies That *Still* Haven't Been Released.

    7) HIDEEN DRAGON CROUCHING TIGER FILMING SEQUEL.

    8) Joss Whedon on How To Get Things Done.

    9) Free Film Contracts And Forms!

    10) 85,000 *Free* Historical Films from British Pathe.

    11) How Do WGA Credits Work?

    12) Donald Duck Did It First! Movies that ripped off Donald Duck comic books.

    And the Car Chase Of The Week!



    NOTE: The SCENES BLUE BOOK is out today!

    Buy The DVD!



    12 New Ways To Create New Scenes... Transitions... and much, much more!

    Great screenplays are made of great scenes, memorable scenes. Who can forget Cary Grant being chased through the cornfield by that crop duster? Or Gene Kelly singing in the rain? Or Indiana Jones facing that huge swordsman in the marketplace... and shooting him? Director Howard Hawks (“The Big Sleep”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Rio Bravo”) famously said, “A film needs three great scenes and no bad ones”. But how do you create those great scenes?

    This Blue Book will help you tune up those tired scenes! We’ll look at what a scene is and how many you will need. The difference between scenes and sluglines. How long should your scenes be, and what is *too long*? We will put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using examples like “Jaws” we’ll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. What is driving your scene? Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. We will even talk to a famous director about creating memorable scenes.

    But that’s not all! There are 12 ways to create new scenes. How to create unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes with excitement. Using plants and payoffs in scenes. Taking your scenes to the limit. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important “flow”... and more! Over 65,000 words!

    Bill

    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    You Have *Potential*!

    From 2009...

    In the remake update post (about HOUSE which starred William Katt) we talked about this crazy idea that the director they love is hotter than the one I know because their guy’s film hasn’t been released yet. That gives him *potential*, where the director I have a connection to has just made a film that was released and got great reviews.

    Ages ago when my friend Jim and I were doing our Russian film we ran into the *potential* thing when we were casting our lead. This project began when Jim and I were wandering around Location Expo (an event that no longer exists) and stopped by the booth for the St. Petersburg Studios. Communism had just fallen in Russia, and after decades of government run film industry, the studios were scrambling to make money. We had a meeting with them, and discovered that we could make a movie in Russia for very little money. I put together a treatment for a RED HEAT type film in reverse - starting in Texas and going to Russia - with the cool idea that the “hero” would be killed on page 10 and the comedy-relief sidekick would be thrust into the hero position and have to track down the killer. That’s when we got a call from Mosfilm, who heard we were thinking about shooting a movie in Russia and wondered if we would like to meet with them before we signed any contracts with St. Petersburg. They had a brand new office in Los Angeles to try and attract movies to Russia - even though only a couple of indie films had shot there so far.

    Mosfilm made us an offer we could not refuse. They had Panavision cameras and an onsite Kodak approved lab and an onsite hotel and undercut the other guy’s prices and, the clincher, had access to some buildings set for demolition (we could blow them up) and some military equipment we could have access to (helicopter chase for cost of fuel) and could use their connections to get us locations like Red Square.

    Oh, and they had a couple of conditions - they wanted to be co-producers and cast Russian stars in the Russian roles. That’s a condition? We loved it! They had head shots and video of some stars, and the ones they were pushing were great. They had an actress who had been in a recent Russian film that had played in the USA, and had done a Playboy spread to promote the film. Yes! They had Russia’s biggest rock star, who wanted to get into acting, and showed us his music video. Yes! Everyone they showed us was someone who would add to the film. Their motivation was to make sure the film was a big hit in Russia and some ex-Soviet countries that they would keep as part of the deal. These were places that US distribs didn’t have a foot hold in, yet, so giving them away cost us nothing.

    I wrote the script, taking place in Moscow and using all of the materials we now had access to... and the result was a film we could make for a budget of around $1 million that would look like LETHAL WEAPON - we had a helicopter chase! We blew up an apartment building! We had a big dock-side action sequence!

    What we didn’t have was an American star.

    Jim was (and is) a clever guy. He had bought the mailing list from one of the trades, and had the home addresses of a bunch of movie stars and famous folks. And he had begun looking for our American star - bypassing agents and managers and going directly to their home address. Our financial contacts might get us around $1 million, but not that much more, so we weren’t targeting Tom Cruise... we were looking at B movie stars. We already had the late, great, Steve James as our villain. Steve and I had been trying to put together a movie for a while - he was a great actor (from John Sayles films) who was usually the side kick to Chuck Norris or Michael Dudikoff and had starred in a couple of low budget films. The problem with most of the stuff he was in was that it never showed what an amazing actor he was. This guy had done theatre in New York. I didn’t think we could get the money for our film with him as the star, but villains are always big juicy roles... and Steve said yes. I wrote a part for him that would make him the star he should have been. A great villain with some big juicy acting scenes.

    But for our star... We came up with a list, and the guy we really liked was Thomas F. Wilson. Who? The guy who played various versions of Biff in all of the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies. He was a stand up comedian, great for the comic relief role (which turned into the lead on page 11). And if you watch the three B2TF movies, he’s an amazing actor. I honestly think that’s why his career didn’t really take off after the trilogy - you can’t tell it’s the same guy playing Biff in all those films! He’s the teen Biff, the fat Biff, the handsome Biff, the cowboy Biff, the loser Biff, the billionaire Biff... he’s completely different in each role - even *physically* different (losing or gaining weight). So, we had a meeting with him... and he brought along a team of managers and agents and lawyers and gardeners. A half dozen people! After getting through all of their BS, we finally got a chance to talk with Tom, who was a very nice, very funny guy, who was interested.

    We took our package to our #1 distrib/money source. We had put together a sheet that showed all of the movies Tom had been in, what their domestic and worldwide grosses were. Beside the B2TF movies, he’s been in ACTION JACKSON and a handful of other movies that made a bunch of money. So, we are looking at a guy who seems like an easy sell...

    But he was not. They didn’t know him by name. They said, you put his name on the poster, and nobody knows who that is. Find us the name that everybody already knows.

    They didn’t care that his films had made a ton of money, they didn’t care that this film would cost them $1 million and look like a huge studio action film... they wanted a name they knew.

    Every other distrib/money source we had a contact with told us the same thing.

    Lesson learned: Just because someone is a great actor who has been in movies that everybody in the world has seen does not make them a bankable star.

    So, Jim and I went back to the list, and cycled through a bunch of actors. Some were turned down by the distrib, some of them turned down the project. We had met with some line producers who had made one of the handful of US films to actually shoot in Russia, and they said the biggest problem we would have is that after decades of working under the Soviet model, most Russian crews worked about as fast as those people behind the counter at the DMV. We would have to double our shooting schedule because they moved so slow. We had included this in our budget and schedule... but the big problem with a star, even a B movie star, is that their time is money. We had the same amount to pay for twice the shooting time. Some stars turned us down because they didn’t want to leave home for two months, others didn’t want to work for half their rate.

    Then we had a meeting with William Katt at Stanley’s on Ventura Blvd, and we found our star. First, everyone knew who he was from GREATEST AMERICAN HERO and CARRIE and a bunch of other stuff, including one of my favorite films, BIG WEDNESDAY. Second, he had a great attitude about the project - looking at this as an adventure, going to a place very few people had been to before. He wasn’t as concerned about the money, he thought just going someplace cool would be worth it. So, we had an interested star who completely fit all of the distrib/money source’s conditions.

    We had a meeting with them, figured we’d walk out with a start date and a million bucks...

    But a strange thing happened. They said, we love William Katt, but if you could get us Brad Pitt we’d fund this thing tomorrow. And we said, Brad who? At this point in time, Brad Pitt had done two movies - a low budget horror flick called CUTTING CLASS and an indie film called JOHNNY SUEDE. Neither film had made any money. But Pitt had *potential*. He *might be* a really big star. Word on the street was that he was the next big thing.

    So, Jim and I went through our distrib/financing contacts looking for someone who would give us the money based on the people we had now. A real TV star who everyone knew who had starred in some great films (CARRIE, BIG WEDNESDAY, etc) who was more interested in the adventure of making a film in an interesting location than making a pile of money. We were pretty much ready to go... and everyone said, Get us this Brad Pitt kid and we’ll give you the money. And again, we said Brad who?

    So, I rented CUTTING CLASS on VHS, a silly slasher movie where Pitt played the villain... and really didn’t understand why they would want this guy. He was okay, but he wasn’t even the star of the movie! Jim tried to track him down, but I don’t think he had a subscription to Hollywood Reporter at that time so he wasn’t on our list. After spending a lot of time, we found out that *everyone in town* had been told that Pitt was the next big thing and that everyone in town was fighting to hire him, and that there was no way in hell that he would be in a low budget film that would take two months of his life to shoot in Russia.

    We went back to our first choice in distrib/financing and told them that Brad Pitt was a no-go. By now, William Katt had gone on to do another movie or two and was unavailable for a while. Thomas F. Wilson was doing a stand up comedy tour, also unavailable. Everyone else we had talked to had gone on to some other project and we would have to wait for them.

    What I didn’t understand was why Tom Wilson was a “no” because the audience wouldn’t recognize his name on the poster, yet this Brad Pitt guy was so hot... when the audience would not only not recognize his name, they wouldn’t know his face or any of the movies he had been in. This distribution company did some small theatrical releases and the rest went to VHS and cable. It was common to list the star’s most popular films on the back of the VHS box. That means even if the audience doesn’t know an actor by name, if they recognized his face and wondered where they know him from they can flip over the box and discover this guy was in a bunch of films they have seen and liked... and they rent the movie. And the answer was... Tom Wilson may have been in a bunch of hit films, and he was a known quantity... but Brad Pitt was *hot* because he had *potential* - he was unknown. He hadn’t made a flop yet, or made a film that didn’t turn out, or proven that maybe he wasn’t the next big thing, yet. This makes no sense to me - but in the fear-driven film biz it's part of the way they operate. Of course, Brad Pitt really was the next big thing - even though it took him a whole bunch of movies to become a star - so maybe all of these distribs/financing sources were right. If we had been the ones to get Pitt instead of CUTTING CLASS, we’d... well, let me ask you - have you ever heard of CUTTING CLASS? Yeah, that’s what I thought. So it didn’t matter whether we had Pitt or not.



    What happened while we were jumping through all of these hoops trying to find a star was that the “Russian Mafia” had begun shooting up Moscow and kidnaping Americans for ransom and all kinds of other things that made no one want to make a film in Russia right now... and our project just died. The only thing that really remains from it is the frame of the story-board that I used as an illustration on the front of my book. We had a bunch of the big action scenes story-boarded to make it easier to communicate what we wanted to our crew, and make filming a little faster and more efficient. A couple of years ago I did a rewrite on the script because I had a producer with some Russian connections interested, but the producer was... unusual... and that rewrite was lost when Fry’s repair guys wiped my hard drive to replace a plastic hinge on my laptop. I thought I had it backed up on my desk top and on a disk, but both ended up being the old version. Pisser.

    The big lesson I learned from all of this is that *potential* beats experience in Hollywood. So, you have potential... I just have experience. You could be destined for greatness! I have written a movie about robot hookers from outer space for Roger Corman. Use your potential!

    - Bill

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Lancelot Link: Road To Rio

    Lancelot Link Monday! When Captain America throws his mighty shield, All those who choose to oppose his shield must yield! Yes, birds, too. 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 Captain America 2.... $41,398,000
    2 Rio 2................ $39,000,000
    3 Occulus.............. $12,000,000
    4 Draft Day............. $9,750,000
    5 Divergent............. $7,500,000
    6 Noah.................. $7,450,000
    7 God Is Not Dead....... $5,485,000
    8 Grand Budapest........ $4,050,000
    9 Muppets Most Wanted... $2,193,000
    10 Peabody And Sherman... $1,825,000


    2) KILL BILL in chronological order.

    3) 10 Upcoming Screenwriting Contest Deadlines!

    4) Writing Dialogue For 1960s Takes Research.

    5) Fun TERMINATOR Facts!

    6) Movie Poster Rejects For Famous Films.

    7) Carol Leifer On Women In The Biz.

    8) The 10 WORST Films Made From Blacklist Scripts.

    9) David Goyer on The DC Universe and upcoming films.

    10) Coming To Cinemas *Before* The Next SPIDER MAN...

    11) The Screenwriters of WINTER SOLDIER interviewed.

    12) Scorsese on Risk Takers In Cinema (five videos).

    13) Why Hollywood Is Broken.

    14) And the MTV Music Award Winners! Who won Best Kiss?

    And the car chase of the week:



    From RAID 2 (in cinemas now).

    Bill

    Monday, April 07, 2014

    Lancelot Link: Captain, My Captain

    Lancelot Link Monday! So CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER has broken all box office records for the month of April, which means we'll probably get CAPTAIN AMERICA: AUTUMN MARINE and CAPTAIN AMERICA: SUMMER NAVY DUDE and CAPTAIN AMERICA: SPRING SURPRISE. While we are waiting for all of those sequels, 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 Captain America 2.... $96,200,000
    2 Noah................. $17,000,000
    3 Divergent............ $13,000,000
    4 God's Not Dead........ $7,726,000
    5 Grand Budapest........ $6,300,000
    6 Muppets Most Wanted... $6,285,000
    7 Mr. Peabody........... $5,300,000
    8 Sabotage.............. $1,908,000
    9 Need For Speed........ $1,836,000
    10 Non Stop.............. $1,827,000


    2) Speaking of CAPTAIN AMERICA, when *can* we expect those sequels... and what comes out in May of 2028?

    3) WGA Contract Negotiations.

    4) Return Of The Spec Script!

    5) Stunt Doubles and their Stars.

    6) Do Critics Matter? Does *Quality* Matter? Or can a bad blockbuster make money? My "Shelf Life Theory", with a chart!

    7) An interview with Ralph Winter... hey, I know that guy!

    8) So You Think You're Smarter Than A CIA Agent?

    9) Nekkid Parts In Movies... The Lawyer's Perspective.

    10) How Much Fun Is It To Be A Personal Assistant?

    11) Producers Never Say NO...

    12) What Is NeoRealism? It has nothing to do with taking the red pill.

    And The Car Chase Of The Week!



    From JADE.

    Bill
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