Thursday, August 28, 2014

Newsflash: President's Schedule For Today

What our President plans on doing today... It *is* shocking and will probably be controversial.

- Bill

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lancelot Link: TV Or Not TV

Lancelot Link Monday! Since movies have become these huge silly event things where stuff blows up (not that there's anything wrong with that) and TV seems to have entered a new golden age... should we be thinking about writing TV? 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 Guardians Of Galaxy........... $17,631,000
2 Mutant Turtles.................. $16,800,000
3 If I Stay...................... $16,355,000
4 Let's Be Cops................. $11,000,000
5 Game Stands Tall............. $9,000,000
6 Giver........................... $6,730,000
7 Expendables 3................. $6,600,000
8 Sin City 2..................... $6,477,000
9 Hundred Foot.................. $5,562,000
10 Into Storm................... $3,800,000

2) 18 Filmmaking Jokes From The Internet.

3) Vintage Behind The Scenes At ILM.

4) The Science Of Typos.

5) 10 Insane Development Notes.

6) (White Male British) New Screenwriters To Watch.

7) The Myth Of Overnight Success In Screenwriting.

8) Webisodes, TV, YouTube, what's the difference?

9) Top TV Writers From The Beginning Of Time Until Now Talk TV.

10) What TV Network Execs *Really* Want!

11) TV Drama Writers On Cable Vs. Network.

12) Amazon Not Looking For Unknown TV Writers Anymore.

13) Top 20 British Horror Flicks.

And the car chase of the week!

The 70s were full of great TV car chases like this one from CANNON (a Quinn Martin Production).


Monday, August 18, 2014

Lancelot Link: When I'm 64

Lancelot Link Monday! Getting too old for this shit? The big movie this weekend was *supposed to be* THE EXPENDABLES 3, and for a while they thought it might be #2 after TURTLES but it ended up #4... after the no stars comedy LET'S BE COPS! Is that because the novelty of old stars has completely warn off? EXPENDABLES was kind of a stunt film: hey, let's take a bunch of old farts who used to be stars in the 80s and put them all in the same film! Okay, they did that twice, but third time was not a charm. Would it have made more money with a better story and fewer old stars? 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 over a half dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mutant Turtles.................. $28,400,000
2 Guardians Of Galaxy........... $24,735,000
3 Let's Be Cops.................. $17,700,000
4 Expendables 3.................. $16,200,000
5 Giver............................ $12,760,000
6 Into The Storm................ $7,720,000
7 Hundred Foot.................. $7,109,000
8 Lucy............................. $5,317,000
9 Step Up Five................. $2,700,000
10 Boyhood........................ $2,150,000

2) Floor plans for TV and movie sets.

3) Gay Hitchcock Films.

4) Movie Monster Bodycount.

5) Martin Scorsese's 85 Films You Need To See.

6) Christopher McQuarrie On USUAL SUSPECTS.

7) Is Netflix Getting Into Film Presale Financing?

And the Car Chase Of The week:

Keeping it topical.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Selling Across The Border

From early 2008, some answers to screenwriting questions...

More answers to questions...

Question: Is there a demand for screenwriters in other markets such as New York and Vancouver? What kind of hassles are involved with selling screenplays to foreign productions?

Answer: I honestly don't know about NY and Vancouver - I can only go by the movies that come out of those places and make a guess. The *business* is in LA, so NY ends up being primarily indie stuff - and most of those seem to be written-directed-produced by the same person (Spike Lee, I guess not Woody any more - he's in London, Kevin Smith, etc).

Vancouver makes Canadian movies, so if you're Canadian, you may have a chance, there. Many American movies are made in Vancouver because the costs are lower (well, were lower - now the US$ vs. CAN$ may not make Vancouver the best place to shoot), but those are movies generated in Hollywood like the X-MEN films.

For *Canadian films*, Canada has a points system for funding and tax credits - with each major job on the film given a point, adding up to 10 points. Except the *writer* is worth 2 points - one for the story and one for the screenplay itself. This makes an American writer in Canada a *liability* - we take away 2 points from the mix! You can hire an American movie star and it only “costs” one point.

My film HARD EVIDENCE was made for a US company by a Canadian production company, to qualify as Canadian Content and get the tax credits. This sort of subterfuge happens a lot in TV and cable films as a way to cut costs. So it was "officially" a Canadian film, even though it was funded by a US company. The first thing the producers said was that I would have to give up my credit. This was a spec script, I loved this script, and didn't want to give up my credit. They said they'd give me a Story By credit and give some Canadian the Screenplay By credit. I said no. They told me I had to give up my credit... I said that was a deal breaker. I kept my credit, they hired Canadian stars. You know, there are lots of Canadian actors who you don't even know are Canadians. Shatner is Canadian.

I don't like the practice of a foreign company buying a screenplay by a US writer and slapping a local's name on it for tax credits or government funding. The reason why these countries have funding or tax credits for screenplays from their countries is to *promote the work of their country’s writers*. Buying a US writer’s script and slapping some local’s name on it defeats the purpose - and screws both writers. If they can’t find local writers with the type of scripts or quality of scripts they need - these countries should create classes to train and educate their writers. The governments should spend some of that Arts Fund cash on training their writers to write the types of scripts needed by their producers... and then crack down on the abuses of these programs.

A few years ago I worked with a Canadian producer who had seen a film written by a Canadian writer that he thought was particularly well written... so he hired that writer to script a project. Only to discover that the Canadian writer didn’t write that clever film he’d seen - he just had his name slapped on as a credit. The script was really written by some US writer. So this Canadian producer, trying to do the right thing and hire a Canadian writer, go stuck with some guy who couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag... who had all kinds of credits. So this practice hurts *producers* as well as writers. Time to put an end to it!

So I don’t think moving to Canada or targeting Canadian companies is a good plan. Most foreign countries need to buy scripts written by people from their country - because funding comes from arts funds or lottery funds that are set up to promote local film talent.

The *other* kind of foreign companies make mainstream commercial films that may not rely on tax credits or Arts Funding - and it's the same as anything else. They probably favor writers from their own country, though, just because they are close enough to meet with regularly. The foreign companies with offices in Los Angeles may be more likely to hire writers from LA, though.

So the best advice to anyone is to write for the country you live in, and target producers in that country. You speak the same language, they probably get tax credits for hiring you, and you don't have to worry about that clever line you created getting completely lost in translation.

If you live in the USA - it may be more difficult to sell from somewhere outside Los Angeles, but possible. Some people suggest getting an LA mailing address and a mobile phone with an LA area code, but I don't think that's a very good idea. Two weeks ago I got a call from a producer on a project - he asked if we could meet that afternoon or the next because he was flying to New York... I met him that afternoon.

I understand the idea behind the LA PO box and LA cell phone number, but I'm not sure it really makes sense in the long run. The reason why some producer might prefer a writer in LA is that they can do that meeting this afternoon... or tomorrow. They are local. So there is a reason for an LA address that the PO box and cell phone number don't resolve. You might fool 'em when they read the script, but after that you're in trouble.

Now, you might be able to say, "Hey, I'm out of town right now - visiting my parents in my home town. I can fly back in a couple of days and we can meet then." or something, and make it work...

But I sold my first script from out of town, with my hometown address and phone number on the title page. And this toolbooth guy in NJ just sold a script from the Garden State. So I don't think the non-LA address is a deal breaker. Might make it more difficult, but it can still be done. The important thing is what's on the page *after* your address and phone number - the actual screenplay. If it's a great script, they don't care where you live.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Love racks and Rom-coms
Yesterday’s Dinner: Falafel pita at Falagel King in Westwood... love that food royalty!

Movies: ZOMBIE STRIPPERS - Imagine Eugene Ionesco’s stage comedy about conformity RHINOCEROS, where people turn into rhinos... and those who don’t secretly wish that they had, but with zombies instead of rhinos... Oh, and not just any undead - these undead were strippers. Okay, now imagine two strippers having a serious discussion of conformity and society, the sort of discussion two college girls might have in a coffee shop. Heck, these strippers may have started out working their way through college. That may seem as absurd as people turning into rhinos, but that’s what’s at the core of ZOMBIE STRIPPERS - a real discussion about individuality and herd mentality in society during the Bush administration... in the case of this film the 4th George W. Bush administration - he had the Constitution amended so that he could stay in office in time of war, and we’re fighting just about everyone now - Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and even Alaska. Why Alaska decided to break away from the union isn’t explained, but does it really have to be?

The big problem is finding soldiers to fight all of these wars, and some evil scientists in a top secret lab in Sartre, Nebraska come up with a solution - the ultimate Stop Loss - a zombie disease. Now, when soldiers are killed on the battlefield, they just get up and keep fighting! Great plan... but the disease gets out of control at the lab, infecting almost everybody, and they have to send in Special Forces. In a really cool ALIENS-like sequence, the Special Forces (including a hot blonde soldier who loses her top and fights in her bra... this movie *is* called ZOMBIE STRIPPERS) they clean up all of the infected in the lab. Lots of smoke machine stuff, some great gore stuff (seriously top of the line kills) and you’d think the story is over... but one of the soldiers was bitten. He ends up in a strip club... the Rhino Club run by a guy named Ian Eskko (Robert England) where star stripper Kat (Jenna Jameson) reads Neitzsche between dances and squabbles with the other pole kittens. When the soldier dies, comes back as the undead, and bites Kat, you’d think things would go wrong... But being a zombie - not caring, being part of the herd - turns Kat into the perfect stripper. One by one the other strippers (and several customers) join the ranks of the undead and uncaring. Englund realizes the zombie strippers are a hot attraction - and they work without breaks. Soon the club is packed, and the non-dead strippers are no longer needed or wanted.

Which leads to several philosophical discussions amongst gals wearing very few clothes. Some long to be part of the herd - and *try* to get bitten. Others think this is just plain crazy - and want to escape becoming one of them. If being a zombie means more men are attracted to you, this turns becoming a zombie into a type of cosmetic surgery - and some of the strippers want to become zombies to be beautiful - and the pressure to be beautiful is debated by strippers. I don’t think I’ve seen a fiction film that debated different issues this much since the film version of RHINOCEROS with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Yet, this is a movie called ZOMBIE STRIPPERS, so there is plenty of nudity and lots of great zombie action - as the ratio of zombies to paying customers changes, we end up with a STRIP CLUB OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario. But Englund is an NRA member - and has a pile of guns, and the Special Forces crew tracks down their missing soldier and finds the crowded strip club full of zombies. Name the strangest way a zombie can be killed, and it’s in this film - with *great* effects!

A million jokes, a million breasts, a million zombies get blown away... and a serious discussion about conformity and not speaking up when things are really wrong in this world... by strippers!

Billy Bob says Check It Out! (20 cities in the USA)

Pages: I have this really old cop script that I've been wanting to rewrite for a while, and last night I wrote 3 new pages on it... even though that rewrite isn't even scheduled. I saw the mess that is STREET KINGS and was inspired to do something on my old cop script.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lancelot Link: The New Batch

Lancelot Link Monday! After a rather slow summer, August box office is sizzling. Up 40 percent last weekend with GUARDIANS and up 22 percent this weekend with TURTLES. But for me the great news is: Two films by screenwriter John Swetnam are in the Top 10 this week: INTO THE STORM and STEP UP: ALL IN. Saw INTO THE STORM Friday night with Swetnam in the house, and congratulated him afterwards. Unfortunately STEP UP wasn't playing at the same cinema, so there was no way to make it a double bill. Here's the thing: only a few years ago, John had sold *nothing* and was working his butt off to change that... and he did! Two films opening the same weekend! 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 Mutant Turtles.................. $65,000,000
2 Guardians Of Galaxy........... $41,531,000
3 Into Storm..................... $18,015,000
4 Hundred Foot.................. $11,123,000
5 Lucy............................ $9,331,000
6 Step Up...................... $6,575,000
7 Hercules...................... $5,700,000
8 Get On Up..................... $5,012,000
9 Dawn Of Apes.................. $4,400,000
10 Planes: Fire................ $2,419,000

2) The Super Hero Movie Cold War!

3) Darren Aronofsky On How Movies Mess With Your Brain.

4) How Not To Write A Novel.

2) Rejections Become A Work Of Art.

2) The Big Business Of Fake Hollywood Money.

7) The Science Of Movie Releases.

8) Joke To Plot Ratio In Sitcoms.

9) Shane Black On Writing Action Movies.

10) Post Plot Cinema?

11) With All Car Stunts It's Safety First!

12) Jason Statham: The Early Years.

13) Film Festivals List.

And The Car Chase Of The Week!

From LUCY.


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Good Customer Service

From my July 2009 Vegas Vacation...

Two sides of customer service...

So, I’m having a late breakfast in a casino coffee shop. The hostess seats me in a section where the people at the table next to me are all bitching at the waitress. I feel sorry for her, because the world is filled with pushy jerks... and they all have to eat. Vegas must be really rough because you get people who are drunk or hung over or who have just got into a huge fight with their spouse after losing the rent money, and the waitress has to serve them. And waitressing is a tough job anyway - I have a friend who never orders anything as it appears on the menu and after doing a million substitutions gets picky as hell over the smallest things. “I ordered this medium rare and this is just medium, take it back!” I hate going to dinner with him, because he always abuses the waitstaff. When I talked to him about it once, he said he’s paying good money for food and wants to get exactly what he ordered. Somehow, this turned into a conversation about how I have no backbone and never send anything back - even if they screw it up. That’s basically true - unless there’s a hair or a cockroach or a severed human finger, I’m not going to send back the food. If I order medium rare and get medium - well, to tell you the truth I’m not exactly sure where the line is between the two. Usually I’m hungry, it’s food, and unless there is something actually wrong with the food, I eat it.

This waitress had a whole table full of complainers. I wanted to make sure I was nice to her, and make sure my order wasn’t difficult. It was actually easy - scrambled, hash browns, sausage, wheat toast, coffee. I ended up with white toast instead of wheat, but that’s no big deal. The guy sitting at the table on the other side of me got his whole order screwed up. I mean everything. He got scrambled eggs when he ordered a hamburger. The waitress took it back... and something went wrong because it took him a long time to get his burger. He had to ask the waitress a few times where his meal was. He got his food just as I was finishing mine, and we sat down around the same time.

When the waitress brought me my bill, it had an item I did not order - a $2 side of grapefruit. I didn’t order that, it wasn’t delivered to my table. I mentioned this to the waitress, who said she’s be back in a minute with a corrected bill. MANY minutes later, she came back with a fresh printing of the exact same bill - including the grapefruit. After an, um, discussion, she gave me $2 in tip money from the table of people who had been arguing with her when I was seated and told me to just pay for the grapefruit, because she didn’t want to get in any more trouble for doing things wrong today.

More trouble.

I probably shouldn’t have left her a tip, but the dude who fills water glasses got my coffee a couple of times, and it wasn’t is fault the waitress was an idiot.

Now I go up to pay my bill, and I pay with a $20 and the exact coin change...and the woman at the register gives me back coin change. I tell her that is not correct. She tries again, and gets the paper money wrong. I end up walking her through it - but come on! This is easy! The machine does everything for you (had she punched in the coins - which had been counted out before I dropped the $20 on the counter) - and even if it didn’t, how hard is it to do 2nd grade math?

Later that same day I went into a Walgreens, and also paid with bills and coins. But the guy behind the counter was doing the math in his head and told me what my change would be before punching it into the register, then counted it back to me. Oh, and he also mentioned that they had something similar to one of the things I was buying on sale, would I rather have the sale item?

Now here’s the big picture: this is Vegas. I’m sure there’s no shortage of con men and short change artists. Do you want the person behind the register to be someone who can’t count, can’t do simple math, and is easily confused by a customer who hands them a bill and some coins? Or do you want someone who made it all of the way trough the 2nd grade? Which person is going to keep your business from losing money?

I don’t know the background of the waitress and the woman at the cash register - maybe they had some hardship and had to drop out of school. But shouldn’t they have to be able to do the basics of their jobs? And it is never too late to learn 2nd grade math and how to write down orders correctly. I’m not even going back to that casino to gamble - what if they hire dealers who don’t know how to add card values?

Okay, what does this have to do with screenwriting? Hmm, let’s look at competently doing your job and education.

So, here’s another one of those nightmare stories that no one wants to hear (including me) - I know a guy who wrote and directed his own low budget film, and this is one of those people who can get other people to work for free and get people to invest in a movie. A smooth talker. A born leader. Someone who can convince others that what is good for him is good for them. I am not like this at all, and am secretly jealous. I feel uncomfortable asking people for favors, let alone money. So this guy made his film, it looked like an amateur film, the script had problems... but it actually delivered on some genre stuff, and you could easily forgive the problems because this was the guy’s first film. It landed a distrib, and did well on DVD. He talked the distrib into financing his next film, which costs a lot more and had all of the same problems as the first film... but had a good cast and some great genre stuff and made money.

So, this guy is climbing up the budget ladder - each film costs more than the last, has a better cast, and now he’s changed distribs a couple of times - also moving up. So he makes a studio film... and it flops. Big time. And critics tear it apart. And they are right - all of the same problems he had in his first film are present in the new big film. Script problems, direction problems. The budgets have gotten bigger but the films have not gotten better. I bump into him and, um, hint around that I have some scripts, and...

Well, he tells me the scripts are not a problem - he just wrote a new one and is looking for a new distrib to finance the film. I, um, hint that he might note some of the problems the critics pointed out and not give them any reason to blast the new film for those problems, and he says the critics are idiots. Okay, maybe they are - but sometimes they have a point... except I didn’t say that. That was my thought balloon. Whenever I do a class in LA, I send this guy an e-mail that he can sit in for free. He never does.

This guy doesn’t seem to want to get better. He has stopped learning, and his attitude seems to be, “Hey, I’m already making movies, why should I take a class or read a book or expand my horizons in any way? And there are people like that in the biz. If you were a studio, would you want to hire someone like that?

None of us are perfect. All of us have our weak spots. But that doesn’t mean we can not improve ourselves. We can get better. We can find the ways to correct our mistakes and practice like hell until those flaws are less noticeable. One of the reasons why I write new script tips is because I either learn something new and want to share it, or am struggling with some writing problem and trying to figure it out. I teach classes so that I can learn. I love being challenged with a question that I don’t know the answer to, because then I have to go out and find that answer or figure it out. That stuff keeps me moving forward instead of just standing there.

No shame in stopping to regroup and solve your problems before moving on. There are lots of big name directors who have some recurring problems with their films - pointed out by those idiot critics every time - who could probably use some down time between movies to learn a little something and become better directors the next time out. On vacation, I am reading a book on screenwriting that uses a completely different method than I use - maybe it will make me a better writer?

The audience is our customer - we are telling them a story - we want them to be so satisfied with our work that they keep coming back for more.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

Monday, August 04, 2014

Lancelot Link: Galaxy Of Fun

Lancelot Link Monday! If I told you that a guy who wrote a bunch of movies for schlock house Troma, including TROMEO & JULIET and a SGT. KABUKIMAN short film would have the #1 film in the country this weekend, would you believe me? What if I added that he wrote the two SCOOBY DOO movies? Maybe if I add in that he created the web series PG PORN *and* HUMANZEE? 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 Guardians Of The Galaxy...... $94,000,000
2 Lucy............................ $18,283,000
3 Get On Up.................... $14,031,000
4 Hercules...................... $10,700,000
5 Dawn Of Apes............... $8,700,000
6 Planes: Fire................... $6,424,000
7 Purge 2...................... $5,551,000
8 Sex Tape..................... $3,550,000
9 And So It Goes............... $3,344,000
10 Most Wanted Man.......... $3,324,000

2) Director James Gunn Sincerely Thanks You For Seeing His Movie.

3) Joss Whedon on FIREFLY. (I am a huge fan of this show.)

4) The wisdom of Roger Corman.

5) Gale Anne Hurd on Comic Con, TERMINATOR, and how Roger Corman inspired her.

6) Interview With Scott Frank, Writer & Director Of A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, based on a great novel by Lawrence Block.

7) EXORCIST Director William Friedkin On His Great Film SORCERER.

8) The Sequel To PASSION OF THE CHRIST (really!)

9) Are These Dirty Words?

10) Martin Scorsese Explains The Difference Between Story And Plot.

11) Kevin Spacey's James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture. Almost an hour of wisdom.

12) The Reality Of Working In Reality TV... Pretty Scary Stuff!

13) Short Films That Launched The Careers Of Famous Directors.

And The Car Chase Of The Week!

From TROMEO & JULIET! The dad/driver of the car singing "Found A Peanut"? Director James Gunn, whose GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY just broke all August box office records and may even be the biggest Marvel film for 2014!


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