Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tofu Steak Tartar

From 2007...

I was going to do an entry about standing in line at the DMV, but what the hell could I say about that experience that would be original?

Then, Lindsay Lohan was arrested this morning for drunk driving again... and I was shocked. Didn’t she just get out of rehab about a week ago? How could she possible be driving drunk already? She had on some sort of ankle alcohol monitor - she displayed it for the paparazzi before entering some night club. How could she drink with that thing on?

In Hollywood, everyone goes into rehab. It’s almost a Get Out Of Jail Free Card - if you go on the Tonight Show and admit you screwed up but are getting help, and with the help of your family and your sudden interest in religion, you will get through it. You spend some time in rehab, and by the time you get out everyone has forgotten that you plowed into a family with your SUV, killing a few people. But a year after you get out of rehab... you do something stupid again, are arrested, and go back to rehab. The Promises rehab facility seems to have a revolving door - the same celebs keep checking in, cleaning up, being released... then checking in again.

Lindsay Lohan was hanging out in bars and clubs *before* she was 21 - I thought that was illegal. Plenty of kids have fake IDs, but we *know* how old Lohan is. So how did she get in...

And after she was released from rehab, and turned herself in to the police for her last drunken vehicular incident, and was released on bond, what does she do?

Go clubbing!

Everybody knows that the best place to go if you have a drug and alcohol abuse problem is a crowded nightclub filled with people drinking and doing coke in the bathroom.

The problem isn’t just drug and alcohol abuse, it’s the choice of lifestyle. Why would you continue the very behavior that got you into trouble in the first place - ankle bracelet or not? The *purpose* of a bar is to serve alcohol. So what the hell are you doing there if you aren’t supposed to drink?

In this grand and glorious country of ours, most people do not go out clubbing every night. They do not spend every waking hour going from one drinking establishment to the next. They have *lives*.

In my previous post I mentioned that when I was in my 20s I could drink and then function the next day... but I didn’t spend every night drinking! I had a full time job at Safeway Grocery working the swing shift (3-Midnight) and was also a full time student at Diablo Valley Community College (recently in the news due to a sex-for-grades scandal), plus I was writing scripts and making short films. Yes, every once in a while Larry, Juan, the crew and I would have a beer in the store parking lot after our shift was over and try to throw paper bags over the letters that spelled SAFEWAY on the awning over the doors... and sometimes on our weekends we’d meet in a bar somewhere and have a couple of beers... but our lives did not revolve around going from club to club drinking. We had lives! I was writing scripts and making movies and going to the movies and reading books. Larry was scuba diving and trying to sleep with every female over the age of 16 who came into the store. Juan had a bunch of kids at home and was constantly taking family camping trips. We all had better things to do than club hop. Like... laundry.

The problem with all of these folks that keep getting busted for drunk driving and going to rehab, only to be busted a couple of weeks after they are released: they need to change their *lifestyle*. If you want to remain sober, don’t hang out in places that exist to serve you drinks. Find some hobby, some purpose in your life, other than going clubbing.

McVEGGIE AND FRIES

In London, every McDonalds and Burger King has an extensive menu of veggie burger items. These burgers look and taste like beef - you wouldn’t know the difference if they didn’t tell you it was 100% vegetable - great for vegetarians! Over there they seem to have a high percentage of the population that have gone vegetarian, and the fast food chains are targeting them.

I have eaten many veggie burgers - not because I’m a vegetarian, but because I’m a fat guy with high cholesterol who loves hamburgers. I’m a meat eater, and I want to eat something that tastes like meat... but won’t send me to an early grave (well, *earlier* grave - I still eat too much bad food).


If I were a vegetarian I would never eat a veggie burger.... I’d just eat vegetables. There’s an intent thing involved. Making vegetables taste and look like meat is the first step to eating a real hamburger. As the vegetarian played by the great Gerritt Graham says to his supposedly vegan girlfriend in the movie HOME MOVIES: “First beef, and now this!” If you are a vegetarian, and your intentions are to only eat vegetables, then eat the friggin vegetables!

Personally, I’m against vegetarians for reasons spelled out by, I think, Sam Kinison: As humans, we need to maintain our place at the top of the food chain. So many people are becoming vegetarians that we are losing our place at the top of the food chain, and in the future Chuck Heston and his space ship crew will be captured by COWS! Cows! Cows that have evolved because we don't eat them anymore! And they will bring Heston to Daly City to be punished in front of the cow ruler... an evil Cow Queen who lives in... The Cow Palace! The only way to stop this is to keep eating those damned dirty cows....

I WANT TO BE A SCREENWRITER

When I should be writing, I’m often visiting screenwriting messageboards answering people’s questions. The ones that always confuse me are “I want to be a screenwriter, but I don’t really like writing” or “I can’t write” or “I want to be a screenwriter, but I need someone to help me come up with a story, or a character, or a scene idea, or a line of dialogue, or...” I don’t know how to answer these - because they are asking me to do their work for them. To do the creative part of writing. Um, if someone comes up with the story and all of the characters and scenes and dialogue for your script, doesn’t that make you just a *typist*? If someone else is doing the creative part, what is left?

Hey, we all get stuck and need someone to kick-start our imagination every once in a while, I’m talking about those people who want someone else to do their thinking for them - the writing for them. Look, if you want to be a screenwriting, you are going to write screenplays.

And screenwriting is work.

Lots of boring work.

Work that isn’t glamorous or exciting... and most of the time no one in the world will ever see your work.

If you are only after the glamor of screenwriting (whatever that is) and you don’t want to do the difficult, boring writing work part... well, you will never be a screenwriter and will never experience the glamor of premier screenings where the audience of celebs and stars applauds every single name in the opening titles... except yours (they never met you, they *did* meet the craft services person who supplied donuts on set every day). Or that guy gesturing for you to get off the red carpet and find another way into the theater. Or... well, there really is no glamor in a screenwriter’s life. There’s lots of boring work...

Or, maybe lots of exciting work. Depends on what you want in your life.

If you want to stay sober, change your lifestyle so you are not going to places where they serve drinks every night. If you want to be a writer, don’t hang out with people who just talk about writing and don’t *be* someone who just talks about writing - instead... Write!

If you really want to write screenplays, write some screenplays!

- Bill


Also from 2007...

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Yesterday’s Lunch: Maple Oatmeal.
DVD: Another DVD I bought on my birthday was KELLY'S HEROES / DIRTY DOZEN double DVD. Kind of a Donald Sutherland & Telly Savalas double bill. I watched both, and realized that DIRTY DOZEN was the model for the movie S.W.A.T. - check it out! My friend Larry, who played the uptight Police Chief guy - same character as Robert Ryan in DD! Sam Jackson is Lee Marvin's character! The whole thing plays out pretty much the same in both movies - even though it isn't obvious. Both films have tough guys who don't deal well with authority given the task of getting a bunch of anti-authority individuals to work as a team... and the Authority guy hoping they screw up and trying to screw them up... only to be outsmarted by the end and look like the silly suit that he is... then the team has a mission that tests all that has come before.
KELLY'S HEROES is a text book example of putting two opposite characters together to create drama and conflict (and comedy) within the team. Donald Sutherland plays a hippy tank commander in WW2 (???) who ends up in scene after scene with tough guy Clint Eastwood. All you have to do is put those two guys next to each other and you have a scene! But the script has them constantly butting heads (and personalities) because they have to work together. This film was obviously the model for THREE KINGS - guys who start out pulling a robbery during war, but end up doing the right thing. In KH it's more *accidental* than in 3K, but the results are the same. Both are fun films - the kind of big team war flick they really don't make anymore.
Pages: None on the new spec, but I designed the labels for the Naked Class CDs and even ran some... plus I'm working on the bonus CD.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lancelot Link: Comic Con Job!

Lancelot Link Monday! While everyone else is in San Diego attending a convention that is supposed to be about comic books but seems to actually be about movie promotion, I am in Los Angeles making this list of tasty links for your post con pleasure. But when did Comic Con stop being about comic books and start being something The Man used to promote movies? And should they change the name to something that better describes the event? 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 Lucy............................ $44,025,000
2 Hercules...................... $29,000,000
3 Dawn Of Apes.............. $16,400,000
4 The Purge 2.................. $9,869,000
5 Planes: Fire................... $9,303,000
6 Sex Tape...................... $5,975,000
7 Trans4mers.................... $4,600,000
8 And So It Goes............... $4,552,000
9 Tammy........................... $3,400,000
10 Most Wanted Man.......... $2,717,000


2) 4 Types Of Scripts. Many Types Of Hollywood.

3) First Look At MAD MAX: THUNDER ROAD trailer, is there too much focus on the male strippers Thunder From Down Under?

4) Christopher McQuarie Interview.

5) I've Sold A Screenplay! To Spielberg!

6) 12 TV Showrunners You Should Know.

7) What Gun Did That Character Use In That Movie?

8) The Financial Life Of The Indie Filmmaker.

9) Ed Burns On Making Your $9k Feature Film.

10) David Conenberg, John Landis, John Carpenter Talk Films.

11) Stephen King On How To Write.

12) Six Writers Discuss Their Process.

13) Writing James Bond.

And the car chase of the week!



From the best of Nolan's Batman movies.

Bill

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Low Budget Losers

From 2007...

For some reason, I know a bunch of stuntmen and special effects guys. My friend Rick’s friend Chuck rolled down the stairs at the end of THE EXORCIST and then, the next day, fell off the top of the Space Needle in PARALLAX VIEW. He’s an interesting guy - he’s worked on almost every Clint Eastwood movie and is still working now... even though he is no longer a young man. I’ll bet I know at least one stuntman on every U.S. movie that hits the big screen... and DVD. For this little story. I’m going to either change the names or leave them out... since these stuntmen want to keep working.

There is this low budget company that began by making low-end direct to video horror films. The company began as a distributor - and that’s really what studios like Paramount and Warner Brothers and Universal are - they distribute films. This company is way way way down the list from those studios. They “buy” a completed low budget film from an indie filmmaker (usually horror), then take it to American Film Market and sell foreign territories for as much as they can get... then release the film on DVD in the USA. They probably began with a boiler room, with out of work actors on the phone selling the movies to mom & pop video stores. Doing a hard sell, because these films have no stars in the cast, and probably no one who can even act in the cast. Plus, they were made on a shoe string and probably look like crap.

The problem these companies have is that they are dependent on the indie producers to make a film they can sell. As you know from my Trilogy Of Terror blog entries, most indie producers don’t have a clue... and end up making horror movies without any horror. I have no idea why they do this. But these really low end distribs have to wade through all of those movies, trying to find a horror film with some horror in it... at least enough to cut together a trailer. Eventually they find some indie filmmakers that have a clue, and they work with those guys - often telling them what sort of horror movie they would buy, so that the indie filmmaker can make that film. But people who have a clue tend to move on to bigger and better distribs... so eventually these low end companies decide it would be much easier to just make the films themselves.

And they start doing “in house” - making their own films.

Now, the creative force behind these films... are salesmen. The guys who sell the films at AFM or have graduated from the boiler room to VP Sales. They are not writers. They are not directors. They are not even producers. They are SALESMEN. They know what sells (boobs, blood) but know absolutely nothing about story or making movies.

They do know that if they are going to make a lot of money on these films, they have to be made for pocket change. So this company makes movies for $100k maximum and pays $1k for the screenplay. They started out paying $2k, but discovered the writer who would take $2k would take $1k. So why not pay the writer less and pocket the difference?

Now, here’s where it gets really good. At the company in this story, after they pay the writer $1k for the script, one of the salesmen does a rewrite. They don’t hire a writer to do the rewrite, because writers don’t know *what sells* the way a salesman does. This company makes over a dozen films a year - and has a deal with Blockbuster video. I have no idea how much Blockbuster pays them per film, but they make them for $100k. SAG signatory (extreme low budget deal) so they can get some names in the cast.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

So one of my stunman friends gets hired to work on a film from this company. The company has decided horror movies are oversaturated, so they’ve decided to make an action flick. Hey, and they are going to spend a little more (because they have to). My friend is a stuntman who wants to become a stunt coordinator (a step up) and they hire him in that position. He reads the script, and it’s not great, but it’s okay.

He goes to the first production meeting and discovers there is very little money in the stunt budget, but a whole lotta action in the script. My friend doesn’t want to be stunt coordinator on a film with very few stunts, how would that look on his resume? He wants to get a bunch of great clips for his reel out of this film, so that he never has to work for a company this low on the totem pole ever again. That means he’s going to have to pull favors.

He realizes the best way to get good clips on *his* reel is to find other stuntmen friends who want good clips on their reels. So he asks all of his buddies what stunts they have always wanted to do... stunts they would do just to have them on their reel (so that other companies will hire them at top dollar to do the same stunts in much better films). My friend goes back to the “producers” with a list of “stunts at cost” and they work them into the script. This is easier than you might think, since action films tend to have the same basic stunts. There are car chases and a high fall and fist fights and things like that.

Now, at this budget, the most impressive “stunt at cost” he can get is a car doing a multiple roll and exploding. My friend knows a stuntman who has always wanted a big car roll on his reel. If you’ve seen THE KINGDOM, you know that a good car roll can be really impressive. The SUV chase and explosion in that film is just amazing. There’s a behind the scenes on HBO that shows how they did it - and *that* is amazing. Back in the 70s when John Wayne was losing popularity, he made a film called McQ where he played a Dirty Harry type cop - and to sell the film, they did a record breaking car roll. The only reason why I own that film on DVD - the car roll.

Now, the car roll stuntman has never done one of these before, so he pulls all of *his* favors - and gets five top stunt guys in Hollywood to help him with his first car roll (and be there to watch... so they might hire him or recommend him later). They buy a car, build a roll cage, do all of the prep stuff. These expenses come out of pocket, now - the stuntguy will be paid for after the stunt. The stuntguy gets a pyrotech friend of his to explode a second car for cost. They will need an ambulance and a water truck on set for this... but the “producers” argue that they can do without both. The producers are thinking they can save money... and pocket it. What’s more, the ambulance and water truck and Fire Marshal don’t show up on film, so why pay for them? If it’s not on screen, it’s not important.

Well, the law says differently, so the producers are forced to comply. The producers will take care of the water truck and ambulance and Fire Marshal... because they are afraid if my friend the stunt coordinator does it, he won’t get the best price.

A week before the film goes into production, one of the two salesmen who own the company does his script rewrite... and now the script is much much worse than when my friend signed on. Now it’s crap. But the two salesmen turned “producers” who own the company think it’s brilliant. They think they know what they are doing, and what is good... and they are wrong.

But my friend thinks that maybe all of the cool stunts will make up for the (now) really bad screenplay....

THE CAR ROLL AND EXPLOSION

The call time is 9am. The stunt guys show up at 9am with the vehicles.... and no one else is there.

No one.

They wait around, and people start trickling in.

The pyro guy wants to run a test - explode the second car with a quarter of the pyro stuff... but there is no fire marshal on set. He asks when the fire marshal is supposed to show, and the Assistant Director says call time was 9am (even though he didn't show until after 10am himself). But he assured the pyro guy that there was a permit to explode stuff.

Well, the pyro guy *knows* the fire marshal who would be assigned to this film, and calls him. Guess what? There was never a permit. No one ever applied for a permit. This makes the pyro guy angry, but he’s already out here and set up... so he talks to the fire marshal. Smooths things over. Finds a way to make it work. The fire marshal will come out on set and they can fill out the paperwork and get a permit when he arrives. He will allow them to do the explosions (if they have a water truck on site) as soon as he arrives. By the way - this is a huge favor the pyro guy is pulling - he's getting a fire marshal to show up and do a permit on site... and it was the guy's day off.

The fire marshal gives them even a bigger break - he allows the pyro guy to do a test before he arrives.

My friend the stunt coordinator realizes that the test may provide an additional angle of the explosion (this is a low budget film - they have *one* camera to film the explosion) and tells the camera crew he needs a camera set up in 30 minutes. The camera crew seems to be working at their own pace, but assures him that the camera will be ready in half an hour.

Fifteen minutes later, my friend checks in with the camera crew, and they don’t seem to be working very fast. Part of this may be that my friend is the stunt coordinator, not the director... but it’s not like the camera crew is doing anything else. Today is a stunt day - it’s all about the stunt. The director, who is somewhere at the location on his cell phone talking to someone about something that has nothing to do with the movie. Seems not to care. I have no idea what they pay the directors on these films, but if the writer’s fee is any indicator, the director is probably making minimum wage. Now. I have this belief that what you are getting paid should have nothing to do with the amount of energy and enthusiasm you give a project. If you decide to do a crappy job because you are being paid crap... you won’t ever be offered a better job. Anyway, neither the director nor the camera guys seemed to give a damn.

This stunt man is going to risk his life by the end of the day, doing a dangerous car roll for peanuts, and the camera guys and director don’t care.

Half an hour later, the car is ready to explode... the camera is not ready to shoot. Now, my friend thinks the test explosion is pretty important on a low budget film... so he begs the pryo guy to give them another half hour to get the camera set up. Then he tells the camera crew that they have a half hour to get the camera set up and pointed at the car that is going to explode. If they aren’t ready in half an hour, they will explode the car anyway.

A half hour later, the camera is still not ready, and the pyro guy says he's going to do his test. The test is cool... and not on film.

When the camera finally is ready, the stunt guy gets ready to do his car roll. All of his buddies - big time stunt guys - are there to see the big event... and maybe pull him from the wreckage if things go wrong. They give him last minute advice on how to do the car roll, things to watch out for, things to remember... Then they all shake his hand. He’s about to do something very dangerous... roll a car over several times *on purpose*. Stuntmen are crazy.

The stuntguy asks when the ambulance is going to show, the Assistant Director says, “I don't know, but we're behind time, so just do it.”

The stuntguy thinks that is a very bad idea - they are *miles* from the nearest town out in the middle of nowhere. He asks how far the nearest hospital is - and the AD doesn't know. Folks, in case you don't know - the rules say they need to know where the nearest hospital is, and have directions on how to get there, even if all they are shooting is a *dialogue scene*. Usually the map to the hospital, along with all of the emergency numbers, is on the back of the call sheet. If a film is shooting a dialogue scene and someone gets hurt, has a heart attack, whatever, they need to know where the nearest hospital is.

This is a day where they are doing dangerous stunts *and* explosions and the Assistant Director has no idea where the nearest hospital is... not even the phone number!

Well, the stuntguy blows his top. The AD gets on the phone to one of the two salesmen turned film producers who run this company and explains that the stuntguy refuses to do the stunt unless they have an ambulance. The “producer” asks if an ambulance is really required? Maybe he can talk the stuntguy into doing the car roll without it, put him on the phone.

The stuntguy controls his temper as he explains how dangerous this stunt is. They have the car with the roll-cage, they have all of the safety equipment, they have a stunt team... it would be a shame to lose the stunt because they don’t have an ambulance. The “producer” tells the AD it's up to him to get an ambulance out there - free or dirt cheap.

Well, while the AD is calling ambulance companies, the fire marshal shows up - so they can blow up the second car. The fire marshal sees the water truck, and, for some reason, decides to tap the tank with his knuckles... it's empty. See, filling it with water would cost extra - somewhere between $20 and $50 - so they didn't do that. Well, the fire marshal blows up - what kind of morons are these guys? He's not going to let them do *anything* - even bullet hits - unless they get the water truck filled with water. The first AD calls HQ again, and the “producer” decides it's too much trouble to send a PA to fill the water truck, plus pay for an ambulance, etc.

So, they change the scene. They just want the car to drive up and down the dirt road, and they'll do everything else in post. They’ll superimpose some fake looking fireball on the car, and instead of the car roll, well... it just comes to a stop.

The stunt guys are all pissed off. The pyro guy is pissed off. The fire marshal is threatening an investigation.

Everyone has wasted their time, wasted their efforts, wasted their credibility... they’ve pulled all kinds of favors... for nothing. For want of a single horse a mighty empire fell... All of the cool stunts they would have had in their low budget movie for *free*? Not there.

This is why so many low budget film makers remain low budget film makers. They think it’s more important to save $20 than to make a better film. Who the hell would even *rent* a water truck and then not put water in it? These guys are low budget losers... the kind of people you never want to work for. They don't care, and they don't want to improve their work. The most important thing - the basic requirement - you have to care. You have to love what you do. You need to constantly be trying to do something better - to improve yourself and your work. Even if you are making a low budget horror flick, you need to try to make the *best* low budget horror film possible. If you don't have the money, use your imagination.

My friend and all of his stuntmen friends are never going to work for these low budget loser again, and have spread the word. No one will ever do them a favor again... no more free stunts, they'll have to pay full price. But the crappy film without stunts? On the shelves at Blockbuster.

Only in Hollywood, baby!

- Bill

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lancelot Link: Birthday Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! You are reading this on Monday, I am writing this on Sunday... and that was my birthday. So after I finish this it's off to Dennys for a free breakfast, then Krispy Kreme for a free donut and Starbucks for a free coffee and... eventually to an orgy of movies at the cinema (after I figure out some way to smuggle in a giant chocolate cake in my clothes). 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 twelve links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Dawn Of The Apes........ $36,000,000
2 Purge 2........................ $28,369,000
3 Planes: Fire Rescue...... $18,000,000
4 Sex Tape...................... $15,000,000
5 Trans4mers................... $10,000,000
6 Tammy.......................... $7,605,000
7 22 Jump Street............... $4,700,000
8 How To Dragon............... $3,800,000
9 Maleficent...................... $3,302,000
10 Earth 2 Echo................ $3,260,000


2) Women Directors Interviewed... including the great Kimberly Peirce.

3) THE SHINING Prequel Gets A Director!

4) The EYES WHITE SHUT Sequel Gets A Writer!

4) Universal Reboots Classic Monsters (again)!

6) When You Need Science In Your Sci Fi Movie, Who You Gonna Call?

7) Comic Book Films That Are Neither Marvel Nor DC...

8) Captain America Battles Superman In Epic Cross Over 2016!

9) New Faces Of 2014... next Week: New Elbows Of 2014, Followed By New Feet Of 2014.

10) 100 Famous Directors Rules Of Filmmaking.

11) Ben Wheatly (met him at Raindance!) Gives No Budget Filmmaking Advice.

12) Agent's Panel: Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make.

And the Car Chase Of The Week!



Thank's to pro screenwriter Todd Gordon for the suggestion!

Bill (going to get free stuff and see movies!)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lancelot Link: Swimsuit Issue

Lancelot Link Monday! For many years as West Coast Editor of Script Magazine, I suggested we do a Swimsuit Issue with Joe Eszterhas in a Speedo on the cover. For some reason they always nixed the idea. Why can't screenwriters be loved for more then their minds? Why can't they be sex objects? 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 Dawn Of The Apes........ $73,000,000
2 Transformers 4.......... $16,500,000
3 Tammy.................... $12,910,000
4 22 Jump Street.......... $6,700,000
5 How Dragon 2............ $5,865,000
6 Earth To Echo............ $5,500,000
7 Deliver Evil................ $4,700,000
8 Maleficent............... $4,169,000
9 Begin Again................ $2,935,000
10 Jersey Boys................ $2,510,000


2) Hollywood's Best Swimsuit Moments.

3) Droid Designs FFrom STAR WARS...

4) If You're Going To Sue Them Because They Stole Your Idea, You Need *Evidence*.

5) Customized Pillows From Your Favorite Film Experience!

6) Mike White's Advice On Screenwriting.

7) Is Hollywood Cloning Actors?

8) What You Need To Sell Films (scripts) In 12 Genres.

9) Those Danged Dreyfus Kids On JAWS.

10) Dustin Black's Index Cards.

11) Ron Howard & Brian Grazer Think The Future Is You Tube Videos.

12) Shane Black In The News... Can't Wait For This Film!

And the car chase of the week...



Bill

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Brad Pitt Guy - Part Last

From 2009...

“William C. Martell! Once more you have arrived most early.”

My stalker is wearing a different hat, and by different I mean really unusual. Where does he get these hats? I have never seen a man wearing anything like it before - are they specially made for my stalker?

He shakes my hand, and again it is cold and damp... but this time he has not been drinking an ice tea. I am a nervous person and my hands sweat, but I am careful to wipe my palms on my trousers before shaking with anyone - I don’t want them to have to touch my sweat. I don’t like huggers because if I’m nervous it isn’t just my hands that sweat, and if I am greeting someone after riding my bike across town? Yech! Please - do not hug me. But may hands are usually warm - unless I’ve been in a meat locker or something. My stalker was at a different upstairs table at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood Village... but Laurence-with-a-Z was still our waitperson, hovering at his station waiting for me to sit down so that he could glide over and ask it I am ready to order, yet.

PART ONE - if you missed it.
PART TWO - if you missed it.
PART THREE - if you missed it.
PART FOUR - if you missed it.

“Nice to see you again.”
“The pleasure is mine. I should probably wait until after we have been served, but I am aflutter with anticipation - my partial screenplay is precisely what Bradley Pitt will respond positively to, am I correct?”
“Well, we really should order first - that way we won’t be interrupted.”

And, on cue, Laurence-with-a-Z appears at the table. “Good afternoon, gentlemen, I’m Laurence with a Z, and I’ll be your waitperson today. Can I get you started with a beverage and some appetizers?”
“Yes, yes. I shall have an iced tea with a small slice of lemon on the side.”
“And I’ll have a Coca Cola.”
“Would you like that with cherry or lemon?”
“No. Just ice, please”
“Are you two gentlemen ready to order?”
I’m afraid the minute Laurence-with-a-Z leaves we will jump right into the brilliance of his script, and I will be on the spot... “Yeah, I think I know what I’m having.”
“I’m afraid I was not prepared for your prompt response, William C. Martell, I may require some additional time to make my decision.”
“Cool. I’ll have a half...”

And I ordered my half sandwich, realizing that if I ordered a table full of food like my stalker did last time, he would decide to itemize the bill to decide what I owed. But I instantly regretted even ordering the half sandwich. I wanted to dump the screenplay and run, and now I had stupidly just stuck myself with my stalker until the final bill came, the last trump...

Because my stalker can not make up his mind, it takes him a long time to decide which 6 different items he’s going to order and pick at... and having Laurence-with-a-Z hovering over the table with his little order book open and pencil poised seems to put extra pressure on my stalker... and I must admit to enjoying this a little. I know that I am going to end up on the hot spot in a few minutes, so a few moments of my stalker on the hot spot feels kind of good. Of course, he isn’t nearly as flustered as he could be, and eventually orders a bunch of seemingly random items and makes sure we get a pickle tray. He doesn’t even wait for the pickles before he begins...

“Now tell me how we shall blend our two creative selves to complete this splendid screenplay!”

Swell. How do I respond to that?

“When, exactly, does Brad Pitt expect this?”
“I believe he said posthaste.”
“Okay, that’s what you believe, but there wasn’t any exact date or anything?”
“I sense your desire to begin our work as soon as possible and this excites me.”
“Look, the script has some problems...”
“I am aware that I am a plebeian in the world of screenwriting, but certainly a man of your talents should have no difficulty correcting any of my minor writing imperfections.”
“Right. Well, my fear here is that the time it’s going to take to fix and finish the script is going to be longer than expected and Pitt may forget you even exist.”
“Then we must begin work immediately.”
“Even then, I’m not sure this script is going to be ready in time.”
“Of course it will be...”

Saved by Laurence-with-a-Z with our drinks. My stalker stops talking mid-sentence, face frozen in place, mouth half open, looking silly. I take this moment to snatch the last pickled green tomato from the plate. They are delicious. When Laurence-with-a-Z tells us that our food will be here shortly and leaves, my stalker’s face begins to thaw. I decide to strike before he can get back to his sentence...

“Look, I have a couple of completed scripts that are ready to go *now*. We can give Pitt one of those right now, just as a stalling tactic while you are working on this script.”
“While *we* are working on this script.”
“I really don’t think I’m going to have the time to help you with the, you know, actual writing on this. I’ve jotted some notes in the margins of the script that should help you along and –“
“But I require your assistance on this.”
“It’s your baby. I can’t write it for you. I’m offering you a way to keep Pitt on the hook until your script is ready. And if, for some reason, he likes one of the scripts I give you, set yourself up as a producer or let me pay you a manager fee or both. Make some money on the deal and become Pitt’s partner. That keeps the door open for your script, right?”

My stalker is not happy. I take a sip of my Coke.

“That plan of action is prone to failure, because Mr. Bradley Pitt requested *my* screenplay based upon the scenario that *I* related to him in that men’s lavatory.”

Now, what I wanted to tell him is that people will often say anything to get away from weirdos who want to have a conversation with them at the urinal. My guess is that Brad Pitt isn’t really waiting for any script, and if this guy slips him one of my scripts it will probably be covered and ignored. But one of my scripts has a better chance than his unfinished script, so why not give it a shot? This is a biz where you throw stuff against the walls and hope that something eventually sticks. You never know what might be the thing that sticks. If this guy who may still drug me and kidnap me and cook me up and serve me with some Chianti and some fava beans can set up one of my scripts with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions, he’s worth 10% from me *and* a producer fee from Pitt.

“I understand that - he wants your script. But I think this script is going to take some time to get to a level that’s ready for submission. Instead of having Pitt forget who you are, you can use one of my scripts to kind of keep that door propped open.”

Yes. I have a diabolical side. Usually I would feel bad doing something like this. But I had to read his script, and this is my revenge.

“I can not understand why completion of this screenplay should take so long. You are a most prolific writer and I have already written 53 and a quarter pages. The most difficult material, the framework for the remainder of the screenplay, has been previously created. You need only to finish this work, and we shall both prosper.”

Laurence-with-a-Z arrives with our food, and my stalker stops talking - with his mouth fully closed, thank God. I look at the half sandwich I’ve ordered and wonder just how fast I can eat it and get out of here. This conversation can only get worse. I don’t want to make him angry - who knows what the hell he’ll do? I slide my glass of Coke over to my end of the table - far away from any knock out drops he may have in that bag of his. I’m hoping that picking at the food on all of those plates will prevent him from talking and allow me to wolf down my half sandwich, leave enough money to cover *my food* on the table, and run. But life doesn’t work out like that. I screwed up big time by saying...

“Look, once you see some of the things in your half of the script that need some work, you’ll realize it’s not just some two week quickie, this is going to take a little time.”
“Allow me to decide that for myself. Have you notes on the existing portion of the screenplay?”
“Nothing typed up. I just jotted down some stuff in the margins. You can take it home, read it over, see what I’m talking about, and then get back to me about using one of my scripts as a doorstop at Plan B.”
“I would much rather read these notes now, in your presence, in the event I have any questions you are present to provide answers and assistance.”

Swell. After shoving half of my sandwich in my face, I’m going to be stuck here while he reads all 53 pages of notes on his script. And the worst part? This thing is like a ticking bomb, because somewhere around page 40 I went crazy and let loose on the page with kind of a rant scribbled in the margins. I hope Laurence-with-a-Z has the police on his speed dial.

My stalker picks at his food and reads... and argues or explains every note. Folks, here’s the thing - when someone gives you notes it is not war. It is not an act of aggression. It is someone trying to help you by pointing out things that are confusing or don’t work or some other type of problem. You can decide later if you want to make changes. If several different people give you the same note, they are right and you are wrong... even if you are right! Here’s what I mean: let’s say everyone who reads your script says you needed a scene where a piece of information is related to the audience, and you flip through the script and point to a page where that very information is right there in black and white typed on the page. So everyone is wrong, right? No. Because if everyone misses this, it’s not clear or buried or needs to be stressed more or whatever. We are all missing it. When a studio reader reads your script, they will probably miss it, too. That’s all we’re saying. Hey, we missed this - chances are, the people who matter will also miss it - so make sure they don’t miss it! No one who gives you notes is trying to destroy you - they want to help... and if you strongly disagree with a note - IGNORE IT. No reason to argue or explain why you wrote it that way. Neither of those things is going to make me say, “Hey, you are right, I completely misunderstood this scene and now that you explained it, it all makes sense!” Because, unless you plan on arguing and explaining with every single person who reads your script, it doesn’t matter. You are not going to convince some studio reader to change their minds - they type up the coverage and turn it in and that’s that.

Now, are there times where readers are idiots? Sure! And I have had scripts “wrongly rejected” a bunch of times. But at the end of the day, arguing with anyone isn’t going to change anything - that script will still be rejected. Better to save your energy for stuff you can control. My stalker wanted to argue every single note. All of them. Even the typos. He wasn’t looking for me to clarify anything - he wanted to convince me that the 53 pages were brilliant.

I was mostly calm and constructive and patient... until he came to the first ripped off action scene (the one from LONG KISS GOODNIGHT) and my notes on the page were a little outraged... and he argued.

“Are you insinuating plagiarism, here?”
“It’s the motel scene from LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. The one where Sam Jackson gets blown out the window.”
“I believe you are mistaken - this scene takes place in a hallway of the Presidential residence section of the White House, not a motel.”
“Yeah, but the same exact things happen. You mostly just changed the sluglines.”
“No. No. You are completely misunderstanding my intentions. This passage is obviously intended as an homage. Certainly an artist is allowed to tip their hats to those whom they admire, are they not?”

And that made me think of his weird hats... and wonder what was underneath them. This is the second time I’ve seen him, both times with weird hats... what if the hats are weird on purpose? What if they are distracting attention from his head? What if he’s bald under the hat? Or has a pointed head? Or has antenna? Though I continued the conversation, I also continued thinking about what might be under his hat.

“Well, the problem is that this goes beyond homage - you use the same sentences.”
“No. No. These are two entirely different scenes.”
“I have the script at home, I compared the scenes - you used search and replace or something. It’s not an homage, it’s a rip off.”
“I do not like the tenor of these comments.”
“You can’t have someone else’s scene in your screenplay. And that’s not the only one. All of the action scenes in here came from somewhere else. It’s like a greatest hits album or something.”
“Allow me a question - who, besides yourself, would ever notice?”

And he maybe had me there. Who else would recognize some disguised scene from a Shane Black script? Would any reader ever recognize it?

“Look, that’s not the point. You are selling Brad Pitt an original script, and this part and a couple of others aren’t original. If he finds out, he’s not going to buy it.”
“I still do not comprehend how any of this could matter, does the director not create these sequences? The stunt men? Surely a writer is not expected to create material that will be ignored during production?”

Well, the answer is “yes” but I wasn’t gonna give him that. Hey, he bought my damned book, didn’t he read it? It has all kinds of stuff on writing action scenes! And all kinds of basic screenwriting stuff he seems to have missed. That’s one of those things I don’t understand - with all of this information out there, how come people make all kinds of stupid rookie mistakes still? When I started screenwriting, there weren’t any books - Syd Field’s book was still a few years away. You really had to dig to find anything about screenwriting, now there are hundreds of books, plus stuff online.

“Look, you want to know how some reader might know that it’s a scene from LONG KISS? Because it’s in the movie. Shane writes great action scenes, those scenes tend to be much better than anything some director or stunt guy could come up with, so they film the stuff he wrote. That film plays on Cinemax once a week, and I’m sure every reader in town has seen it. Even with the location change, so much is the same you’re gonna get caught. You need to write *original* action scenes, and action scenes that are story and character related.”
“That is a great deal of effort for –“
“It’s writing the script. That’s what this is all about. Writing the script.”

He almost tore the page turning it to the next scene and the next note. What if he had a third eye under his hat? Wasn’t there a TWILIGHT ZONE episode about a guy with a third eye?

“Perhaps the best solution would be for you to complete the screenplay...”
“Look, I have my own scripts to complete.”
“I do not understand this comment: 'I’ve heard this one before.' What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, it’s one of the Dixie Riddle Cup jokes you keep using in the script.”
“I still do not understand.”
“You have all of these old jokes in the script.”
“There is humor, yes. I was under the impression that humor was a requirement in action screenplays such as these, is that not correct?”
“Yeah.”
“To fulfill this requirement I purchased a volume of One Thousand and One Jokes for All Occasions, and utilized the jokes which fit the occasions in the screenplay.”
“Look, you have to come up with your own jokes, you can’t just steal jokes from someplace. By the time a joke gets put in a book everyone’s already heard it.”
“One can’t be expected to create all of the jokes in a script –“
“Yes, one can - it’s writing the script.”

A point. I’m sure under the hat his head is pointed. Time is running out - he’s around page 38 and on page 40 my rant begins. It may include insults. I lost control. He turns to page 39...

“It appears as if there are several notes on every page.”
“Yes. There are. All the way to the end.”
Crap! He flips to the next page, with the tirade!
Then flips to the page after that, and keeps flipping until he gets to the end.
“Look, we could keep going over this note by note, but you can see there’s all kinds of stuff that needs work, it’s not just writing the last half of the script and sending it off to Brad Pitt. This is major work, here. And I don’t have the time to work on anyone else’s scripts but my own. I’ve given you notes that I think will help guide you through - things to thing about, places where the script needs work –“
“Several notes on every page.”
“Yes.”
And he closes the script without reading the rant on page 40 and smiles at me. I don’t know whether it’s a happy smile or an I can’t wait to see you simmering on my stove in a pot smile.
“You are a very kind man for taking the time to help me. I wish you to know I appreciate that.”
“Thanks.”
“Perhaps this plan of yours to delay Mr. Bradley Pitt with one of your screenplays has merit. Allow me some time to consider it. I will telephone you after I have made my decision.”

I drop more than enough money to cover my half sandwich and Coke on the table and start to get up.

“If you please, William C. Martell, one small gesture before we part.”
I ain’t kissing him.
“What?”
“Would you sign my book?”

He pulls out his copy of my book, the one he spent more than three hundred bucks for on e-bay, and sets it on the table in front of me. I uncap my pen, sign the book to him, and hand it back to him. He tips his hat to me... and has a beautiful head of hair underneath - almost Fabioish - and he looks a little sad behind the smile. Then I give Laurence-with-a-Z a wave and head downstairs and around back to the parking lot and my car. I would never hear from my stalker again. No call for a script to prop open the door at Brad Pitt’s company, nothing. But somewhere, in some popular night club, he’s standing at a urinal pitching a script to some movie star... and for all I know, closing a couple of deals.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Dramatizing Emotions - and a film directed by Roman Polanski.
Dinner: A *free* Jack In The Box grilled turkey, bacon, cheddar sandwich. Had to buy a drink to get it, and I ordered a large one... and also some onion rings. So my free sandwich set me back $5... but it was okay. Some tomato/basil stuff in there gave it some zing.
Bicycle: An accidental longer bike ride than planned. After Jack, instead of turning back as planned I continued forward to a far away Starbucks. Then had a long ride home.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Lancelot Link: BBQ Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! This was the Independence Day weekend here in the United States, and that means barbecues and fireworks. I did my civic duty by attending a fireworks exhibition in Porter Ranch which was bigger and better than last year. This is also the time of year that the police remind gun owners in America about gravity... and any bullet shot into the air in celebration will come back down and maybe kill somebody. Many seem to believe the bullets are absorbed into the atmosphere or something... which worries me a little that they own guns. 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 Transformers 4.......... $36,400,000
2 Tammy.................... $21,170,000
3 Deliver Us From Evil... $9,500,000
4 22 Jump Street.......... $9,400,000
5 How Dragon 2............ $8,750,000
6 Earth To Echo............ $8,250,000
7 Maleficent................. $6,133,000
8 Jersey Boys............... $5,160,000
9 Think Like A Man 2...... $4,900,000
10 Edge Of Tomorrow..... $3,640,000


This was one of the worst July 4th weekends on record, down 47 percent from last year. Yikes! This is due to TRANSFORMERS doing a massive nosedive in its second weekend... down 64%... and TAMMY doing much less that expected, and EARTH TO ECHO totally tanking. Part of the ecosystem of big movies is that when they sell out, people buy tickets for other films on the list. That happened last week with TRANSFORMERS... but not this week. So the two top films doing blah business meant all of the films underneath them did blah business.

2) The script for THE WIZARD OF OZ!

3) Ehren Kruger On Writing A Transformers Movie.

4) Micahel Bay Thinks TRANSFORMERS Is A Work Of Genius!

5) How To Make A Feature For Under $10k With A 2 Man Crew.

6) Unusual Russian Cinema Posters.

7) PIRATES five and BAD BOYS 3 updates.

8) Malick's KNIGHT OF CUPS release information.

9) One Of My Favorite Films! Behind The Scenes On LOCAL HERO.

10) MIGHTY QUINN's Lorene Scafaria On Screenwriting.

11) Top 10 Practical FX

12) 3 Short Films About The Planet Of The Apes.

And The Car Chase Of The Week!



Sure, that could be the end of a real car chase...

Bill

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Brad Pitt Guy (part 4)

From 2009...

When I woke up, I was bound with colorful bungee cords in my stalker’s dank Brentwood basement with a huge spider crawling up my left leg. When I looked closer at the spider, I could see the tell-tale red hourglass markings of a black widow.

That’s when my stalker came downstairs with a huge woodcutter’s ax, the Home Depot price tag still on the blade, and asked me, “So - did you like my screenplay?”

And when I hesitated, he knew my answer and swung the blade again and again until both of my legs were gone and I could never run away...

That’s when I really woke up. But that didn’t end the nightmare - I had stupidly taken my stalker’s half written screenplay and offered to read it... when I don’t do that, not even for money. As I said in part 1, I do not do Script Consulting. Everyone wants me to read their script, and I tried it for a while and did not enjoy it at all. The % of good scripts to scripts so bad you want to kill yourself instead of finish reading them is small.

There is a writing guru/consultant who teaches classes (and I’m not mention their name) and when anyone asks them about the odds of selling a script, they say to ignore the numbers - because 90% of all of those scripts out there just completely suck, so they are not your competition. What this guy neglects to mention is that those scripts might be *yours*. If 90% of all scripts suck and he’s telling this to a room with 100 screenwriters in it, then the odds are that 90 of those people have written those sucky scripts. I say - know the odds, know how difficult this is, and use that knowledge to prompt you to work your butt off and keep improving your craft (and your script) until you are in that 10%. And don’t just assume that you are already in that 10% - that’s what everybody does, and instead of working their butts off they relax. The people who are sure they are good usually are not good... and no matter how much they pay for consulting, their script is still not good. And the biggest problem with consulting is that they do not want someone to tell them how to improve their scripts, because they are sure they are already in that 10%... so they tend to argue with you. Which is probably why this guru/consultant wants everyone to believe they are in that 10%, so that they will keep using his services. They think they are getting closer to a sale - and they are... just as West Virginia is closer to Hollywood than Virginia is (but both are still a long ways away). So I do not do consulting - I have my own scripts to write and I’d rather write my Script Tips which may help a bunch of people at the same time without me having to read some of those really bad scripts written by really strange people who give off weird stalker vibes...

Like this guy.

PART ONE - if you missed it.
PART TWO - if you missed it.
PART THREE - if you missed it.

Now I have agreed to read his script and meet him in a week at that Jerry’s Deli in Westwood again and give him notes... but he not-so-secretly wants me to read the script and agree to finish writing it for him in exchange for 50% of whatever Brad Pitt pays him - which is probably one miiiiiiiillllllion dollars.

I put off reading the script for a few days, then realize I’m running out of time and head to Starbucks with the script and a pen. I don’t want to take the time typing up notes for this guy, so I’m just going to mark up the pages. Who knows, maybe it’s brilliant, right? Well, I start reading it and already there are all kinds of problems - it’s written like a novel - a bunch of dense pages of description that do not matter, and lots of things that can not be seen or heard. The guy has a flowery style (who would have guessed?) and seems to think that his style will mask the bland characters and situations... and sometimes the completely over-blown characters and situations. Like his pitch, this script is all over the place and is inconsistent in tone - one minute it’s mundane stuff and the next it’s some larger than life soap opera plot about the cloned Vice President. It’s a mess.

Then I get to the first action scene and it’s much better written than the other stuff and oddly familiar. The more I read, the more it resembles a scene from LONG KISS GOODNIGHT... I mean, *really* resembles it. Like, it is the exact same scene, just with his guy in love with two women while dealing with the death of his wife as the guy in the motel shoot out... and the motel is the White House... but when they guy gets blown out the window and lands in a tree... hell, this is the same damned scene! Later I pull my copy of LONG KISS off the shelf and compare both scenes - and they *are* the same scene - and the same *sentences*! This guy has search-and-replaced action scenes from other screenplays and used them in his. And some of the dialogue scenes seem familiar, too. This is some sort of Frankenscript! No wonder it seems like it’s made up of a dozen different stories!

Not only is that, like, illegal... an action scene is a *character scene* and a *story scene* and is specific to *one script*. You can’t just pull an action scene from one script and put it in another. That action scene serves a story purpose - and unless both scripts are telling the same story, it won’t belong. The spec script I’m working on now has a theme that has to do with faith - so all of the action scenes (including the one I wrote yesterday) have a component of “faith” in them - a character must act on faith or not have faith in something or lose faith in themselves or another character due to the action elements in the scene... but all of the action scenes are about faith. The scene I wrote yesterday had a character who has faith in a certain book of prophecy, drop that book in the middle of a chase scene and decide if he will risk his life to go back for it or continue forward. That’s what that action scene was *about*. I could not lift that scene and put it in some other script - like maybe SLEEPER AGENT which is all about planning versus improvisation. The scene would not fit the story.

And this guy has cut together a bunch of scenes from different scripts to assemble the first half of his over-written and all over the place screenplay. Yikes!

The more I read the script, the more I want to put a gun to my head and stop the pain this is causing my brain. I finish writing my notes, and I’m afraid that they become a little mean spirited at some point. That is a flaw of mine. I try to stay helpful and nice... but then there is that straw that breaks the camel’s back and I suddenly become a complete asshole. After constructive notes scribbled in the margins for most of the script, I’ve just had enough and say what I really think. Things like - YOU CAN’T JUST STEAL SOMEONE’S SCENE LIKE THIS!

Now I’m dreading that meeting at Jerry’s. Maybe I can just show up, drop off the script with the notes, then split? No such luck...

Last Chapter on Wednesday.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Drama Is Our Business - and the drama of SUPERBAD.
Dinner: Islands Restaurant - fish tacos (3).
Bicycle: Short rides. It's kind of cloudy - supposed to rain.

Movies: SHUTTER ISLAND - quick review: 138 minutes - should have been 110. Waaaay too long. Slow... and detatched. Not a thrill ride, you aren't scared, and it seems aimless at times. Lots of great atmosphere - but its no substitute for story. The investigation doesn't have any real suspects so they kind of wander around, nothing *driving* each segment of the story. "Hey, let's go check out this location. Hey, let's go look at that location." But it never seems like they MUST go to this SPECIFIC location RIGHT NOW! Also - for a suspense film, no actual suspense scenes. Closest we get is wandering around in the dark with some matches - which is kind of a Scooby Doo cliche. Again - the lack of suspense scenes is in the way the story is told (screenplay issues)... just kinda bland. The wandering around with a match thing is the only situation that creates suspense, and even then - not really set up for suspense. The suspense scenes just are not there. And the film overstays its welcome - it has a twist end that's kind of preposterous, then keeps going for another 10 minutes! Long enough for you to poke all kinds of holes in that end. Has a character related twist at the end, but it's not nearly as powerful as that plot twist, so the film just peters out for ten minutes. Film looks great, acting is great, music is a bit much at times, but movie ends up just okay. Hard to create suspense on screen if there are no suspense scenes in the story.
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