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:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
The Creature From The Black Lagoon

When I was a kid, one of the most scary movies I had ever seen was THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. May have been on Bob Wilkins' Creature Features or on C3PM Theater on KCRA (Sacramento). The movie is really creepy, and uses the water to hide the monster the same way JAWS used the water to hide the shark. You never know when or where it will strike. This feeds right into our fear of the unknown, which is a basic element of horror. Anything that obscures the threat - water, darkness, fog, tall grass - builds our fear.  The film also has great music with some of the earliest use of "stings" - dant-dunt-da! The group of people, isolated, with a monster out there... somewhere... builds dread. Every time someone gets into the water because there's a tree or something in the way of the boat, you worry that the creature will attack. This was one of those movies I watched as a kid with hands covering my eyes - peeking between my fingers.

Not as scary as an adult, but still *fun* - it has some real suspense and real thrills and actually has an environmental message (great shot of a cigarette butt being thrown into the lagoon... camera dips underwater to show the Creature looking up at the butt and garbage floating in his pool). I didn't notice the environmental stuff when I was a kid, and I wonder if the audience in 1954 audience noticed it. It's *very* apparent when watching the film, now. Horror movies were great places to make a point or explore a theme because  they were usually made by the low budget division at the studio and they only cared that they made money. There are many horror films about scientists who fool with Mother Nature with terrifying results, but CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is different in that it focuses on an exploration party basically trashing the environment by throwing out their garbage and polluting the natural environment of a creature... who doesn't much like swimming in cigarette butts. There were two sequels that seemed to miss this point... the second film is watchable, the third seems to be mostly guys sitting around a table on a boat talking.

This is one of those films that people my age saw on TV as kids and remember - which is why Universal keeps trying to remake it (earlier this week they hired a screenwriter - David Kajganich who wrote the unwatchable remake of INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman). There have been dozens of previous attempts to remake it, one with Will Smith!

The cheese-fest ANACONDA owes just about everything to this film.

For a while there was a slot machine in Vegas based on BLACK LAGOON, and I always played it because it had clips from the film with some clever quips... and that sting.

I have no idea if kids today would find this scary, or just silly - there's no gore at all... but when people dangle their feet in the water and you know it's down there, that scared the heck out of me when I was young!

- Bill


Monday, October 13, 2014

Lancelot Link: Gone Girl Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! A bunch of new movies opened over the 3 Day Weekend, but GONE GIRL remained on the top of the box office. Though the film has become controversial, mostly it's a twisty roller coaster ride. They have crowned Fincher the new Hitchcock, which just goes to show you how little people know about Hitchcock. Is anyone who does a movie with plot twists the "New Hitchcock"? I thought GONE GIRL's twists were more like BODY HEAT, so maybe he should be the "New Kasdan"? 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 Gone Girl....................... $26,800,000
2 Dracula Told.................... $23,457,000
3 Alex Terrible................... $19,100,000
4 Annabelle....................... $16,365,000
5 Judge........................... $13,330,000
6 Equalizer........................ $9,725,000
7 Addicted......................... $7,600,000
8 Maze Runner...................... $7,500,000
9 Box Trolls....................... $6,676,000
10 Left Behind...................... $2,909,000

This is the first weekend that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was not in the Top 10. It was #12.

2) SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION Anniversary... How The Novelette Became A Film.

3) GONE GIRL and PSYCHO... do I need to add a page to my Hitchcock Book?

4) TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: Brilliant Script Analysis.

2) Favorite Books Of Your Favorite People.

2) Power Show Runners.

7) Ex Studio Heads Create New Companies... New Places To Sell Screenplays?

8) Insane Idea Prompts.

9) Complete Episode Guide and Analysis of WEST WING (all seasons)

10) Sacramento's Joe Carnahan's Unproduced Screenplays... There's A Stack Of Them.

11) Test Screenings: Help & Hurt.


And the Car Chase Of The Week!

GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS and it opens with a girl, best I could do...


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Raindance Film Festival Winners!

Sorry, another week without a THRILLER entry, and FINGERS OF FEAR was a pretty good episode starring hulking character actor Robert Middleton as a mentally challenged dishwasher who may also be a child killer. But my sleep patterns are all messed up and I didn't get the entry finished in time.

To the rescue: the RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, where I am usually at this time of the year, announced it's winners on Sunday night.

Special Jury Prize for Short Film – Heart / Coeur
Best Documentary Short – Our Curse
Best Animated Short – Tea With The Dead
Best International Short – Rangzen
Best UK Short – Nosferatu In Love
Short Film of the Festival – Rangzen
Best Music Video – Subtunes
Best Documentary Feature – Days of Hope
Best Debut Feature – Kebab & Horoscope
Best International Feature – The Light Shines Only There
Best British Feature – Luna
Feature Film of the Festival – Take Me To The River

Hopefully I'll be back there next year!

Heart / Coeur
The story of two young women spending a night out in the small town of Kortrijk. This night will take them to different places, random conversations, and a confrontation with a man who has a dark secret.

Our Curse
This painfully sincere documentary portrays the parents of a baby boy born with a rare and incurable disease. Leo Hueckel-Śliwiński is affected by Ondine’s Curse. The illness causes the complete cessation of breathing while he is asleep, meaning he must be attached to a ventilator for the rest of his life.

Tea with the Dead
Frank is a gentle unassuming embalmer from a small town in Connemara. After Frank has washed, disinfected, removed and replaced fluids, applied cosmetics and dressed the deceased, he always makes two cups of tea: one for him and one for the dead.

A film about a 8 year old Tibetan boy, Tashi - growing up as a refugee in a small hill town in Indian - the exiled home of the Dalai Lama. The film maps a crucial day in his life when he stumbles on his exiled refugee identity. When he's told at school that there is an invisible 'R' written on his forehead - Tashi goes on a quest to unravel this mystery.

Nosferatu In Love
In a fit of rebellion against his director which masks his own dark demons, a tormented movie actor (Mark Strong) starring as Nosferatu runs away to a nearby small Czech town. Loss and failure lead to a redemption, of sorts.

Days of Hope
A close look at the shocking struggles of illegal immigrants travelling across the Mediterranean, from Africa to Europe.

Kebab & Horoscope
Two down-and-out men, Kebab and Horoscope, go on a quest to re-establish themselves as marketing experts.

The Light Shines Only There
Tatsuo and Chinatsu, two deeply wounded people, fall in love – but their trials are far from over.

Dave McKean’s lyrical blend of live action and animation in a stunning sophomore film.

Take Me to the River
A star-studded documentary telling the story of the musical and socio-economic history of Memphis.

Congratulations to all of the writers and directors and everyone else involved!


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

I Threw That Script Away!

From 4 years ago...

Sometimes, instead of rewriting a screenplay, you have to throw it away and start from scratch. The problem is, most people never want to do anything this drastic. They become married to their writing and try to find some way to salvage what they’ve written, even though the best case scenario is to part it out... and the more likely scenario is that even the parts are defective in some way. It’s human nature to want to save what you’ve written, but often a first draft or second draft or even third draft is just a way to organize your thoughts and show you how *not* to write this story. In a couple of months I plan on throwing a screenplay away and starting from scratch - and last night I scribbled some notes on the new screenplay.

Usually outlining prevents you from having to scrap a script. You devote a creative step to making sure the story works and is the best that it can be, then you go to script. When you are finding your story with your first draft, you are more likely to have to scrap all sorts of things that are not the story when you go to second draft - and this may also be part of a larger refining process where you keep throwing away drafts until you have figured out the story and know which scenes matter and which scenes don’t. But even with an outline you can screw up and have to scrap the first version of the script. And that means you have to be objective enough to reject that draft and get on to the next draft.

The script I’m throwing away had an interesting path to the page. A creative exec had asked me what I was working on, and I said I was trying to figure out this thriller script - and I pitched him the concept. Cool high concept - and the CE asked if he could read it when I finished the script. “Sure.” (Why else had I pitched him the concept? Part of the “what are you working on?” question is for them to see if they can get dibseys, and for us to pitch a script.) That would have been the end of that, but the production company connected with a distributor who was looking to do upscale action and thriller films... so the CE called me and asked if I could come in and pitch it to his boss. I had imagined the script as a big studio budget thing, they were looking for something a step down from that - but still a theatrical release with a star in the lead. Not a summer tentpole, but one of those genre films that comes at the end of summer - maybe $20m budget.

I pitched it, they liked it, they asked me if I would write a treatment for free that they could take to the distrib... I agreed... and wrote up a theatrical budget version of the story. There were still story problems that I hadn’t solved, but I did a good job of covering those up uin the treatment and hoped to solve them when we went to script. Everyone was happy with it - the producer gave it to the distrib and they were happy with it. They wanted the title changed - and I was cool with that...

And then something happened and the production company’s relationship with the distrib hit a bump and the project was dead before we went to script and before I was paid a cent. Welcome to Hollywood. But a couple of months later the CE called me again and asked if I would be interested in doing the low budget version of that idea for a cable network? I said I wasn’t sure it would work - though it had a cool concept, the treatment also had some big action set pieces and those wouldn’t work on a lower budget. Plus, the difference between an anything goes theatrical budget and a really tight cable budget meant lots of restructuring - I had to trim down the number of locations, get rid of crowd scenes, etc. But I was willing to write a new treatment - again for free. That new treatment didn’t work as well, and required that a bunch of set pieces that I thought were critical to the story be changed to small scenes at existing locations. Well, they liked the concept so much that they didn’t think the other things mattered... and they thought they had a star signed (I had two meetings with him to get his input - a guy who had starred in a couple of B theatrical action flicks). Because I was worried about the story problems that I still hadn’t ironed out (and they still hadn’t noticed) I thought I would get a jump on the project and start writing the screenplay - even though we didn’t have a contract, yet. Well, the whole thing crashed and burned when I was about at the end of act 1, so I never got paid a cent... and I still owned the script. I have actually bought back a couple of scripts that were shelved, but didn’t have to pay a cent for this one because I hadn’t been paid a cent.

At the time, I was doing other cable movies for other producers and though maybe this script would be something I could sell if I finished - so I got to Fade Out... and then set it aside because I had writing jobs lined up, and when I came back to it a couple of years later I decided the idea was too good for low budget, so I did a page one rewrite to bump the budget up to theatrical level and add some of the big set pieces... except not all of the big set pieces, because the story had changed. What I should have done at that point was throw the existing script away and started from scratch - but instead I tried to save what I had written. I ended up with big budget flesh on a low budget skeleton, and it just didn’t work. But a handful of big companies read it based on the concept... and almost all said they would read it again if I did a rewrite that fixed all of the problems. One producer asks about it every year... and every year I tell him that I have not done that rewrite, yet.

So, now I’m going to throw away the script and start from scratch. There may be some scenes from the earlier version that end up in this version - but they will be typed from scratch so that I don’t try to save something that doesn’t work. Basically I’m writing a new script with the same concept - only this time, hopefully it will work.

Sometimes you just have to throw all of that hard work away and just start from scratch.

- Bill

Monday, October 06, 2014

Lancelot Link: October Country

Lancelot Link Monday! Welcome to the fall, where Hollywood box office takes a break after summer... Except we just had a slow summer and we have kicked off fall with a record breaking weekend! This was the biggest weekend in October *ever*. Everybody went to the cinema this weekend. I have no idea why... maybe to avoid all of the Christmas stuff that's already going up in department stores? Or are we in an Endless Summer, where the seasons don't matter and films can be hits (or misses) all year long? One of the main reasons why Summer went from dead box office to the big box office season was *air conditioning*. Once cinemas got A/C people flocked from their hot homes to get cooled off and watch a movie. But now most people have A/C in their homes, and maybe the pattern is shifting... maybe there is no such thing as seasons in cinemas? 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 Gone Girl....................... $38,000,000
2 Annabelle....................... $37,200,000
3 Equalizer....................... $19,000,000
4 Boxtrolls....................... $12,425,000
5 Maze Runner..................... $12,000,000
6 Left Behind...................... $6,850,000
7 Where I Leave.................... $4,000,000
8 Dolphin 2........................ $3,530,000
9 Guardians Galaxy................. $3,034,000
10 No Good.......................... $2,500,000

2) How did pro screenwriters get their first big breaks?

3) How Much Do The Stars Really Make?

4) Universal Emerging Writers Program Is Taking Applications.

5) Joss Whedon On Story.

6) Tarantino On Film Vs. Digital.

7) Billy Wilder On The Art Of Screenwriting.

8) How To Hire Bill Murray.

9) Fall Films In Pictures.

10) The Best Movies About Hollywood.

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Hey, it's *seasonal* (if there are still seasons).


Thursday, October 02, 2014

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