Thursday, August 28, 2014

Newsflash: President's Schedule For Today

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

- Bill

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Eyes Bigger Than Their Budget

From this time in 2008...

A few years I got a call out of the blue from a director I had never worked with (and never heard of) who said I came highly recommended as a screenwriter... but never told me who recommended me. We met in a coffee shop across from the DGA. He was this charismatic guy, almost as tall as I am, and was wearing a formal vest - which is unusual for Los Angeles. He was interested in my available scripts. He told me he was in post production on his first indie feature and it was already getting all klnds of great buzz around town and he was sure that a studio would set him up with a big feature deal... but while that was being negociated, he had an investor lined up with $1.2 million to do a genre film, what did I have? I pitched him a couple of stories, he gave me his fancy silvery business card with his e-mail address and I told him I’d send him some synopsis.

Okay, I have to admit that I’m not so much looking at the $1.2 million film as that big feature deal. The $1.2 million deal is less than half of the budget of the films I’m used to working on, but a bird in the hand pays the rent. So I go home, look through the script inventory, select the ones that can be made on this budget... and there are a couple of really good ones that can be made for that, including one of my favorite scripts of mine - DANGEROUS CURVES. It works as a showcase for a male actor, and has a bunch of cool plot twists - kind of a cross between Hitchcock and BLOOD SIMPLE with a hint of strange Roman Polanski. And the personal thing - it’s about an architect whose clients keep wanting him to change his plans in ways that can not work... while his dead wife haunts him and a corrupt cop blackmails him. I’ve always wanted to see this one on screen, and it could be a director’s showcase, too. There were a few other scripts on the list, too, some other really good ones that could be made on his budget - and I included the URL for all of my other available scripts.

Okay, I have to admit, the reason why I sent that URL wasn’t for the $1.2 million project, but for that big studio project. I wanted him to find the script for the studio film on my website, and bring that into the studio when they make his deal.

A week or two goes by, then I get a call from the director - he wants to read a script, could I meet him at that coffee shop across from the DGA on Thursday. And then he tells me what script he wants me to bring... DANGEROUS CURVES? No. One of the others on my list of scripts you can make for $1.2 million? No. This guy wants to read one of my big budget studio scripts. One that I really like. One that got me a few studio meetings and I was kind of saving for later - it’s kind of a dream script. Bur maybe this director is either planning ahead to his big studio deal... or maybe he’s skipping the $1.2 million project because something has happened with his indie film already? What if this is the big deal... and he wants my script?

So I make up a couple of copies and drive over Laurel Canyon to the coffee shop. I hand him the script, ask him how his film is going... and he tells me great, but it’s still in post. I ask if there’s been any studio interest, yet, and he says there is a lot of great buzz, and everyone thinks he’s a genius and the next big thing, and after this film he’ll really be hot. After this film? Well, he has to read the script, first. Of course....

As I’m zooming back over Laurel Canyon, passing the house that rolled down the hill, I wondered what the hell was going on. It seemed like he was thinking this *huge* budget foreign location chase script he was looking at for his $1.2 million budget... and that wasn’t going to work. But, he’d figure that out once he read it, right? And then he’d look at the other scripts and pick one that fits the amount of money he has, right?

Wrong. A few days later he calls to tell me he just loves this script. And he has some ideas on how he might be able to make it for $1.2 million. And I want to scream, but instead I calmly say that I don’t think this film can successfully be made for that budget. I mean, even if there is no star in the film, he’d have to have some sort of great connections - like a facility deal - to pull this off at that budget. Plus, you’d have to scale down the action, which, I guess is possible, but.... He tells me he thinks he has it all figured out, and he wants to meet me to talk about my next draft.

I politely say that maybe he should write up his ideas and e-mail them to me before we meet, so that I can have some time to think about them. He doesn’t seem to want to do any typing, just talking, but he agrees to do this. Over a week later I get his suggestions for “the next draft” and I almost smash my computer monitor in anger. First - he has a facilities deal... here in the USA, in a Southern state, that means completely changing the concept of the script - no longer will it be about a guy in a foreign land on the run with no one to turn to, and language issues... unless it’s maybe a guy from California who can’t understand thick Southern accents. And the action scenes get mostly cut out completely - so it’s a chase film with almost no chase. There were a couple of scenes where the hero found places to hide - kind of like the THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR scenes with Faye Dunnaway - and he wants to make that the main part of the story. So instead of a chase film, it’s a hide film... which is a completely different movie. Basically this big script gets hacked down to nothing - and loses everything that was cool about it. And the “machine that drives the story” - the MacGuffin - doesn’t work if this story takes place in the American South at all. I’d have to come up with something else that drives the story.

Okay, bird in the hand that pays the rent, right?

Wrong. I e-mal him back and say that I really don’t think this script can possible work at this budget. He still wants to meet and talk about these changes and “the next draft”.

I meet him at that Coffee Bean across from the DGA and he’s talking a mile a minute about how this could be a great film with all of these changes and will guarantee his big studio deal. This guy is a great talker... and almost convinces me. I wish I had that gift - that charisma and ability to make complete nonsense sound great. But I’m good on the page, not that good in the room. My scripts can get places that I can’t. The other side of this is that when people do all of this big talk, I can usually see through it. I can smell the BS through the charm. So I wait until he’s done and say that I still don’t think this script can be done on this budget without completely ruining it. I ask him what he likes about the script, and after he mentions a few things, I note that those things will either not exist in “the next draft” or will be changed so much they may not be and interesting. Of course, he says there’s no way to know until after I finish that “next draft” and he reads it. He tells me to go home and think about it, this could be a great film.

I drive past that tumbled down house on Laurel Canyon... It was once a multi-million dollar view home, then the slides tumbled it down the hill until it came to rest on the edge of Laurel Canyon - a broken mess. Imagine being the owner of that home. You have this great house, everyone loves it and wishes it was theirs, then one day it rolls down the hill and turns into a bunch of junk waiting to be demolished and hauled away. And everyone who drives over Laurel Canyon gets to see what’s left of your luxury home and snicker. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Fallen right down the hill and smashing on the side of the road.

Did I want my script to be that house?

I looked over the notes again when I got home, and decided that it couldn’t be made on $1.2 million without trashing it. But what made this director pass up scripts that *could* be made on his budget - and *good scripts*, not trash - and select something that didn’t have a chance at surviving the budget rewrite surgery? Couldn’t he look down the line and see how his notes would change the script? Why didn’t he want to make a script that could actually be made for his budget? What is the motivation there? Is it that I said it couldn’t be done, so he had to do it?

I e-mailed the director, saying I didn’t think this script would work in the cut down version - that many of the things *he* liked about the script would be removed, so it wouldn’t even be the same script. So if he wants to do *this* script, maybe he should consider doing it when he gets his big deal, rather than try to make it fit his budget and kill it in the process. And I re-sent the list of loglines for the scripts that *could* be made on his $1.2 budget. I figured this was the end of it - no more bird in the hand, and I’d have to find some other deal somewhere. But instead, he requested another script. Not DANGEROUS CURVES, but one that has almost been made at least 3 times. I sent him the script - instead of meeting him at the coffee shop - and thought this might all still work out, right?

A couple of weeks he e-mailed me notes on the script. Everything that was “wrong” with the script. I read over the notes, and instantly wanted to e-mail the director with the rebuttal. You know, we all want to do that. In this case, it would have been easy, because everything on his list of problems was not a problem at all. Most of the “problems” were things that seemed due to skimming the script - I could have just listed the page numbers of where these things were set up, but he seemed to have missed them. This script had almost been made three times - and all of those people read the set ups and didn’t find any problems. Oh, sure, they had notes - but all of the past notes had made sense or been practical issues. I think he was *looking* for reasons to dislike this script, because...

The end of his e-mail of what was wrong with this script that could actually be made for $1.2 million was that he still thought the big script could be successfully trimmed down, and I should reconsider doing that “next draft”. He *still* didn’t want to make the one he could afford to make, he wanted to make the one he couldn’t.

And he’s not the only one. Every year or two some big talk director or big talk producer - and they always seem to be new - looks over the list of scripts they can afford and would rather do the script that they could never afford to make on their budget. And chop out everything that they like about it so that they can afford to make it on the money they have - which turns it into crap. There’s no way this can work. I know it. A director or producer who does a movie a year knows that biting off more than you can chew usually results in a movie that is one big problem after another to shoot - all compromises and doesn’t work when you cut it all together. Hey, maybe some freakin’ genius director at the top of his game might be able to make this work on that budget, but that’s a lot of stars aligning in ways they have never aligned before. That’s a big chance to take with someone else’s $1.2 million. Why not take the script that’s a slam-dunk at $1.2 and use the easy schedule to spend more time being creative? Give the films some style? Use a dolly and crane? Design some amazing shots? Why would you want the script that will be living hell just to get on screen at $1.2 with master shots and a couple of close ups?

What makes these people pick the script they can’t pull off? Are they trying to set themselves up for failure? Do they want the project to crash and burn before it ever happens? Are they trying to prove something (and if so, to who)? Was their first film a miracle and they’re hoping that lightening strikes twice? Why set out to do something that can’t be done?

Right now I have two producers reading scripts they can’t afford on their budgets. If either one wants to me chop it down to what he can afford - ruining it in the process - I’m just going to say no. I have enough *really good* scripts that can work on these guy’s budgets - why would I want to ruin a script that won’t? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

I never heard back from the director with that indie film who wanted to turn my big chase thriller into a small hide film, so I decided to look him up on IMDB. They demolished that house that was on the side of Laurel Canyon and taken away the debris a couple of years ago - now it’s hard to even remember that it was there. Last year I had 2 films released on the same day - both ended up in the top 10 DVD rentals in the USA - neither of those deals had even been made when I was meeting this director at the Coffee Bean across from the DGA. So, I wonder what he’s been up to? I wonder what his big studio film is?

Well, according to IMDB he has that one indie film... and nothing else in the works at all. And according to IMDB his indie film has yet to be released... Anywhere. There are no consumer reviews - no one has seen it at a festival and posted a review or anything.

Now, IMDB is not always accurate - so maybe it was released somewhere, and maybe it played festivals somewhere and maybe people liked the film... but this big talking director seems to have nothing going right now (and I read deals in the trades, and haven’t seen his name). My guess is that he had a window to do something for $1.2 before his film was finished... and that window has closed. That’s kind of a business tip, by the way - the time when you want to seal a deal is *before* your film is released. You may think your film might become a huge hit and studios will be fighting over you... but what if it flops? Lots of films everyone thought were going to be hits just didn’t click with the audience for some reason. Though you can predict which films have a better chance of becoming hits, there’s no “hit formula” where you can be sure a film will work. So you want to make a deal while there is still hope that your film is a hit. If it *is* a hit, you’ll get other offers. Hey, you may have to make that $1.2 million film before you make the studio’s $120 million film, but if you’re hot, the studio will still want you. But if your film flops? Well, if you have that $1.2 million film already in production or preproduction, it’s like a second chance at the big studio project! Not to mention - income.

Heck, that’s why I was willing to sell a script to a guy with less that half the budget I’m used to - income (my bills must be paid whether it’s *the* project or not) and as a writer you never know if this is going to be the combination of director and cast and perfect timing that makes this film the next SAW - some low budget genre film that gets picked up for theatrical release and ends up becoming a huge hit. I can’t plan on any of the scripts I have circling at studios to ever land.

If this guy had just taken the *good* script he could afford to make at the time, he’d have *two* films on his IMDB listing... and probably would have been released by a major label (Sony, LionsGate, etc)... and if I liked the way it came out I’d try to get it shown at some film fest that I’ll be speaking at... and try to get coverage in one of the magazines that I write for or have written for in the past. Basically, by promoting a good film version of my script I also promote the director, production company, cast members. And who knows? Maybe that $1.2 million film could have been the new SAW? We will never know.

If I had a limited amount of money, I would want the *best script* I could find which could easily be made on that budget... then I would pull out all of the stops to design interesting shots and do some great casting and make it the best film version of that best script.

And then sign a deal on the next project while this one was in post.

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Something.

MOVIES: KUNG FU PANDA - Okay, here’s what I know is absolutely true: Pixar movies make me cry and really make me feel, Dreamworks movies are surface comedies that take my $11 and I get a laugh or two. Both studios make animated films that look good. The art in KFP is amazing - and the opening and closing titles in 2D animation are so amazingly drawn you kind of wish there was a traditionally animated version of this film. Nothing wrong with the 3D animation, though - great backgrounds and fantastic detail. Technically both studios are tied - but Dreamworks just doesn’t seem to want to go for the emotions. They’d rather go for the laughs.

Jack Black plays a fat panda named Po who dreams of being a kung fu fighter, but as his father James Hong (who must be in every US film that has a Chinese character by Federal law) tells him that they are noodle people - broth flows through their veins. When the evil martial arts Panther voiced by Ian McShane breaks out of prison, only the chosen one - the Dragon Warrior - can defeat him... but who is the Dragon Warrior? Wise old turtle Oogway will select the warrior from martial arts instructor Dustin Hoffman’s star pupils - Tigress Angelina Jolie (not as hot as in BEOWOLF), Monkey Jackie Chan, Mantis Seth Rogen, Viper Lucy Lui, and Crane David Cross. Hey, noodles can be sold at this event, so Black is sent with a push cart. Due to a mistake, *he* is chosen as the Dragon Warrior... and this pisses of the “Furious Five” and causes no shortage of headaches for Dustin Hoffman, who must train him to be a great warrior before the evil Panther arrives. And hijinks ensue. We get a grab-bag-o-gags, and not much else. Okay, maybe a pretty lame message that everything you need to be special is within yourself - but no *heart*. The Pixar films are filled with heart. If you don’t cry at a Pixar film, there’s something wrong with you. I cried at THE INCREDIBLES! And even if I hadn’t welled up when Mr I told Mrs I why he’s not strong enough (hell, I’m misting up thinking about it) the film would still have great characters and characterization and scenes that cut deeper that 98% of films with real people in them. Pixar films are all about characters and emotions - that’s what makes them great... better than most Hollywood films. But KUNG FU PANDA - a couple of laughs for adults, probably fun for the kids. I wonder what happens when Dreamworks goes Bollywood?

Bicycle: Not much biking lately because it's, like, 109 degrees in the Valley (seriously) and I would die. Though Friday I took an ill-advised walk while I was in the West Valley (going to the movies in Northridge - one of the guys lives there).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lancelot Link: TV Or Not TV

Lancelot Link Monday! Since movies have become these huge silly event things where stuff blows up (not that there's anything wrong with that) and TV seems to have entered a new golden age... should we be thinking about writing TV? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Guardians Of Galaxy........... $17,631,000
2 Mutant Turtles.................. $16,800,000
3 If I Stay...................... $16,355,000
4 Let's Be Cops................. $11,000,000
5 Game Stands Tall............. $9,000,000
6 Giver........................... $6,730,000
7 Expendables 3................. $6,600,000
8 Sin City 2..................... $6,477,000
9 Hundred Foot.................. $5,562,000
10 Into Storm................... $3,800,000

2) 18 Filmmaking Jokes From The Internet.

3) Vintage Behind The Scenes At ILM.

4) The Science Of Typos.

5) 10 Insane Development Notes.

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

7) The Myth Of Overnight Success In Screenwriting.

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

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

10) What TV Network Execs *Really* Want!

11) TV Drama Writers On Cable Vs. Network.

12) Amazon Not Looking For Unknown TV Writers Anymore.

13) Top 20 British Horror Flicks.

And the car chase of the week!

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


Monday, August 18, 2014

Lancelot Link: When I'm 64

Lancelot Link Monday! Getting too old for this shit? The big movie this weekend was *supposed to be* THE EXPENDABLES 3, and for a while they thought it might be #2 after TURTLES but it ended up #4... after the no stars comedy LET'S BE COPS! Is that because the novelty of old stars has completely warn off? EXPENDABLES was kind of a stunt film: hey, let's take a bunch of old farts who used to be stars in the 80s and put them all in the same film! Okay, they did that twice, but third time was not a charm. Would it have made more money with a better story and fewer old stars? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are over a half dozen links plus this week's car chase...

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

2) Floor plans for TV and movie sets.

3) Gay Hitchcock Films.

4) Movie Monster Bodycount.

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

6) Christopher McQuarrie On USUAL SUSPECTS.

7) Is Netflix Getting Into Film Presale Financing?

And the Car Chase Of The week:

Keeping it topical.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Selling Across The Border

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

More answers to questions...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lancelot Link: The New Batch

Lancelot Link Monday! After a rather slow summer, August box office is sizzling. Up 40 percent last weekend with GUARDIANS and up 22 percent this weekend with TURTLES. But for me the great news is: Two films by screenwriter John Swetnam are in the Top 10 this week: INTO THE STORM and STEP UP: ALL IN. Saw INTO THE STORM Friday night with Swetnam in the house, and congratulated him afterwards. Unfortunately STEP UP wasn't playing at the same cinema, so there was no way to make it a double bill. Here's the thing: only a few years ago, John had sold *nothing* and was working his butt off to change that... and he did! Two films opening the same weekend! While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mutant Turtles.................. $65,000,000
2 Guardians Of Galaxy........... $41,531,000
3 Into Storm..................... $18,015,000
4 Hundred Foot.................. $11,123,000
5 Lucy............................ $9,331,000
6 Step Up...................... $6,575,000
7 Hercules...................... $5,700,000
8 Get On Up..................... $5,012,000
9 Dawn Of Apes.................. $4,400,000
10 Planes: Fire................ $2,419,000

2) The Super Hero Movie Cold War!

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

4) How Not To Write A Novel.

2) Rejections Become A Work Of Art.

2) The Big Business Of Fake Hollywood Money.

7) The Science Of Movie Releases.

8) Joke To Plot Ratio In Sitcoms.

9) Shane Black On Writing Action Movies.

10) Post Plot Cinema?

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

12) Jason Statham: The Early Years.

13) Film Festivals List.

And The Car Chase Of The Week!

From LUCY.


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Good Customer Service

From my July 2009 Vegas Vacation...

Two sides of customer service...

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

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

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

More trouble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

Monday, August 04, 2014

Lancelot Link: Galaxy Of Fun

Lancelot Link Monday! If I told you that a guy who wrote a bunch of movies for schlock house Troma, including TROMEO & JULIET and a SGT. KABUKIMAN short film would have the #1 film in the country this weekend, would you believe me? What if I added that he wrote the two SCOOBY DOO movies? Maybe if I add in that he created the web series PG PORN *and* HUMANZEE? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Guardians Of The Galaxy...... $94,000,000
2 Lucy............................ $18,283,000
3 Get On Up.................... $14,031,000
4 Hercules...................... $10,700,000
5 Dawn Of Apes............... $8,700,000
6 Planes: Fire................... $6,424,000
7 Purge 2...................... $5,551,000
8 Sex Tape..................... $3,550,000
9 And So It Goes............... $3,344,000
10 Most Wanted Man.......... $3,324,000

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

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

4) The wisdom of Roger Corman.

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

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

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

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

9) Are These Dirty Words?

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

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

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

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

And The Car Chase Of The Week!

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


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